From loudspeakers on the roof of a Minnesota mosque, the Islamic call to prayer echoed for the first time ever throughout a Minneapolis neighbourhood late on Thursday as the Muslim community there prepared to begin the holy month of Ramadan.
It echoed again on Friday morning and will continue five times a day during the holy month.
The simple, short call – known as the adhan – marked an historical moment for Minneapolis and major cities across the United States, community members said. While the adhan is commonly broadcast throughout the Middle East, North Africa and other places, for many Muslims in the US, it is only heard inside mosques or community centres.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement,” said Imam Abdisalam Adam, who is on the board of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque, from where the adhan will be broadcast.
“Some people see it as historic,” Adam told Al Jazeera. “To the point … that they’re not doing it, able to see it in their lifetime.”
Recited by different representatives from mosques around the city, the call to prayer is expected to reach thousands in the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood in Minneapolis, according to Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of Minnesota’s Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
While Hussein says the community had discussed broadcasting the call for years, it became even more pressing this year when the coronavirus pandemic forced mosques to shut their doors and residents to stay inside. The coronavirus has infected more than 870,000 people nationwide and killed at least 50,000.
“We wanted to touch those individuals who frequent this mosque and this community,” Hussein said. “If we cannot be physically together, at least this echo, this voice, this call to prayer can be an extension of us being together at this difficult time. To give some people some solace.”
Ramadan is traditionally a time when Muslims worldwide regularly attend mosques for daily prayers and break their fasts together. But this year, most have been told to pray at home and forgo community iftars in favour of staying safe from the COVID-19 crisis.
Adam, the imam, said while the Muslim community is experience loss this Ramadan, they hope the call to prayer broadcast will create a “semblance of normalcy”.
“With the loss of Friday prayers and the regular congregational prayers, we are hoping that this will give a sense of solace and connection to the spiritual needs of community members,” he added.
An avenue to greater investment?
The Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood is a densely populated area of Minneapolis that has historically been an entry point for many immigrants and today is home to large Somali and Oromo communities.
Ramla Bile, a Somali American who lives in a neighbourhood adjacent to Cedar-Riverside, has been active in the community for years. She welcomed the broadcast of the call to prayer, saying it will help people “feel the spirit of Ramadan in a way that is meaningful”.
But she also hopes the city of Minneapolis, which provided the noise permit for the broadcast, will make bigger strides to invest in the community in even more tangible ways.
“There’s been a lot of need and a lot hurt in the community in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. And then there’s the ongoing conversation you’ve been having,” she said, pointing to deep-seated Islamophobia, systemic racism and the need for infrastructure projects like sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings.
“We need to see greater investments to support the most vulnerable members of our community,” Bile said referring to the neighbourhood’s elders, undocumented individuals, low-income families and others.
“Right now, we’re waiting for a bailout for our micro-businesses who comprise our Somali malls, or a rent freeze for neighbourhood residents,” she added.
For CAIR’s Hussein and Imam Adam, they hope this Ramadan’s call to prayer helps encourage other communities around the US to take similar steps.
“This will hopefully inspire others … to think about what could happen in future Ramadans and beyond,” Hussein said.
Adam added that while the virus has devastated communities and upended daily life, it has also shown that “we’re in this together”.
“It just shows the significance of the global village and how interconnected and interdependent we are as a world community,” he said. “I think that there will be a lot of change in our way of life for the better. I hope so.”