Discover Delhi: The azaan at Jamat Khana mosque can enliven even the non-Muslim | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Discover Delhi: The azaan at Jamat Khana mosque can enliven even the non-Muslim

At Jamat Khana, a mosque built on one corner of the sufi shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in central Delhi, Muhammed Iftikhar, a young Quran teacher, calls the faithful to perform fajr. It’s the first of the five prayers that Muslims enact daily.

delhi Updated: Jul 10, 2017 15:16 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Most muezzins, the people who lead the prayer in a mosque, simply produce a perfunctory call; a few create magic through soulful solitary tunes.
Most muezzins, the people who lead the prayer in a mosque, simply produce a perfunctory call; a few create magic through soulful solitary tunes.(Mayank Austen Soofi)

5.25 am. The sky is still dark. Holding the microphone close to his lips, he opens his mouth to recite the azaan, and… time stops.

We are in Jamat Khana, a mosque built on one corner of the sufi shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in central Delhi. We’re watching Muhammed Iftikhar, a young Quran teacher, call the faithful to perform fajr. It’s the first of the five prayers that Muslims enact daily.

Some people, not necessarily only Muslim, find azaan beautiful; others may think of it as nuisance. Today singer Sonu Nigam created controversy, tweeting, “God bless everyone. I’m not a Muslim and I have to be woken up by the azaan in the morning. When will this forced religiousness end in India,” he wrote.

It is nobody’s argument that the Indian air is oversaturated with all kinds of sounds: azaans, aartis, gurbanis, and not to speak of night-long songs during the wedding season. To many of us, some of these sounds are sheer music; to many others, it is plain noise.

To Iftikhar, the sound of azaan is a part of himself. It comes from within him. He performs it, after all.

He is in a white cap and a black-and-white kifayah. His eyes are closed, as a soft, lyrical sound emerges from him.

Lifting his palms to his ears, the bearded young man repeats the words, God is Great.

Each morning, Muslims across the world wake up to a similar holy cry from their neighbourhood mosques. Most muezzins, the people who lead the prayer, simply produce a perfunctory call; a few create magic through soulful solitary tunes. Iftikhar’s voice is unremarkable in conversation, but now it has transcended to an extraordinary tenderness.

After concluding the call, Iftikhar sits down on the carpet. The mosque was commissioned by one of the sons of Sultan Allaudin Khilji in the 14th century. Its entrance opens to Hazrat Nizamuddin’s tomb.

“I live in this mosque and sleep in the hujra there,” Iftikhar says, pointing to a door adjacent to the wall that faces Mecca. Muslims pray facing towards this town in Saudi Arabia. “I teach the holy Quran to children.”

Two elderly people enter for prayer.

Iftikhar blushes as we congratulate him on the melodious style of his azaan. “I learned it from Maulana Siddiq, my ustad (master).”

Iftikhar’s father is a maulavi (priest) in Jamshedpur, an industrial town in the eastern state of Jharkhand. More than a decade ago, his parents sent him for studies to a madrasa (Islamic school) in Hapur, a town 60km from Delhi. After he memorized the Quran and became a hafiz, Iftikhar came to the capital. “It is an honour to lead the call to prayer.”

Another man enters the mosque; he is wearing flannel trousers and sits down to perform his prayers.

“I have to do other things in life too,” Iftikhar says, “I want to marry. But first, I wish to return to Jamshedpur. Although I frequently talk to my parents on the phone, I miss them desperately, especially my three brothers and my only sister.”

Only a few people have gathered to pray in the mosque. Getting up to join them, Iftikhar says, “One day I will go back to my watan (meaning home town).” We ask, “What will you do there?”

He thinks for a moment, and then turning towards Mecca, his voice fading, as if he is talking to himself, he says, “I’ll start a karobaar (business).”

(This is an updated version of the story that first appeared on the blog, thedelhiwalla.com, on December 17, 2011. Muhammed Iftikhar hasn’t yet returned to his home town to start his business, as he had hoped to and continues to perform azaan at the Jamat Khana mosque, along with a few other students of Islam)