A look at Turkey's call to prayer competition and the phenomenon of individuality within Islamic culture.

Last updated: 13 Mar 2013 09:16
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Filmmaker: Sebastian Brameshuber

Since the time of the Prophet Mohammed, faithful Muslims have heeded the muezzin’s call to prayer five times a day.

A more recent phenomenon is the Turkish call to prayer contests. Each year the country’s muezzins compete and every region pre-selects one muezzin to take part in the pan-Turkish finals.

In Turkey there are 78,698 muezzins and imams, they are state employees working for the presidency of religious affairs; from 2,944 mosques in Istanbul muezzins call the people to prayer.

In cities and hamlets across the country, muezzins rehearse for the national contest to find the country's top performer at the call to prayer - and and their powerful expressivity proves that muezzins are a special kind of artists.

Halit Aslan, a muezzin of Istanbul's Fatih Mosque, says: "If you ask me to chant now, it won't be the same as I do it in the minaret, you can never get that emotional concentration, you know, we normally chant five times a day, but in the competition it's different .... There is a competitive atmosphere which doesn't exist up in the minaret, when the time for prayer comes you only concentrate on your emotions."

This film gives a rare insight into the lives of dedicated muezzins whose dream is to sing the nation’s most beautiful call to prayer. It follows the dramatic progress of the competition and investigates the phenomenon of individuality within Islamic culture.

Filmmaker's view:

In numerous films, one hears the call to prayer in order to establish a Muslim or oriental setting. However, the source of the chant, the muezzin, is never shown.

His face almost always remains hidden. The call to prayer is reduced to a sound effect and serves as a mystical sound that can unfold its effect exactly through the visual absence of the muezzin and, at the same time, through the acoustic omnipresence. 

Muezzin is an attempt to contribute towards the deconstruction of this myth, which for me is symptomatic for the reception of Islam in the West.

I have experienced my protagonists as very pragmatic men who indeed pursue their work with passion, but rather refer to the musical than spiritual aspects.

I wanted to show that the extended term of “artist” is thoroughly applicable to the muezzin. An individual style and a portion of vanity are part of the decorum, and that in a society in which individualism is very quickly interpreted as religiously condemnable egoism.

Muezzin moves hermetically within this scene of religious “musicians” whose ethics regarding “money and fame” amazingly approximate very closely to the "underground” attitude found in different Western music scenes – particularly in hip hop.

The explication of these similarities meant a lot to me. Likewise, it was important for me to illustrate a slice of the protagonists’ biographical background in order to ostensibly show that origin, tradition and education were primary factors in choosing this profession, and that questions of faith were secondary.

The call to prayer competition serves the film as a narrative thread, but does not attain a significant meaning beyond that. I avoided major plots and worked primarily with allusions.

I did not want to let myself be carried away to any conclusions, but rather impartially made a portrait of a scene and its members. The protagonists should receive space and time to express their realities, views and passions, and thereby speak solely for themselves.


This episode of Witness can be seen from Monday, March 4, at the following times GMT: Monday: 2230; Tuesday: 0930; Wednesday: 0330; Thursday: 1630.

Click here for more Witness films.


Al Jazeera
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