Why so fucking loud? On Cairene mosques

Why so fucking loud? On Cairene mosques

There is a penis measuring contest that takes place five times a day—everyday—between the imams running the three mosques near my building in central Cairo. The criteria seems to be that the louder, more distorted and whiny their call to prayer is, the larger their penis is.

It’s an unfortunate contest because it’s the people living around these mosques that have to suffer these penises battling around them in a scriptural cocktail of cacophony. And it’s the same all over Cairo.

While this may sound like a childish attempt to insult figures in a society that deems them beyond insult, it’s nevertheless true that when you witness a phenomenon that is so utterly mystifying in its unwarranted assault on peace of mind, you are tempted to settle on some pseudo-Freudian explanation for it: in this case, a pathetic show of “my penis is bigger than yours.”

But I suspect it’s more than that. I have never interviewed an imam before, but I don’t doubt that many of them believe that they earn “points” in heaven for each citizen that hears their call to prayer and heeds it. In which case, better earn as many points as possible by ensuring your call travels as far as possible, regardless of how ironically demonic your made-in-China-loudspeaker-propelled voice ends up sounding.

This, for instance, is how the call to prayer sounds from my bedroom.


Ironically demonic, indeed.

But none of this is an instance of “oh look how backward Islam is.” No, this is an example of a flawed marriage between technology and tradition—a marriage free from foresight or any attempt at questioning the values behind its union. In The Thirty-Third Marriage of Donia Nour, I take it a step further and envision a society where the call to prayer is so inescapable that the dawn call is beamed right into your sleeping brain, ensuring you awake and pray.

And why not? If the bulk of society doesn’t mind—or at least doesn’t dare question, let alone reject—a deeply intrusive and inconsiderate mechanism for propagating the religious life, then I see no reason why future technologies wouldn’t be exploited to make that mechanism even more intrusive and inconsiderate. Who would stop it?

Certainly not the neighbours, at least not in my apartment building. The 80-something year old Coptic lady across the hall from me looked terrified when I suggested we talk to others in our building so we might politely petition the mosque opposite us to tone it down.

However, while I’m confident that everyone in our building has probably cursed that mosque at some point, I doubt it’s the same in other Cairene districts.

As far as I can tell of my fellow citizens, few are particularly interested in quietude. For instance, the notion that you may be disturbing others by blowing your horn at 3 in the morning in a residential area (for no reason other than habit), does not appear to be particularly widespread.

It’s easy to pin such instances on a basic lack of empathy, but I think it’s more than that. Empathy requires that you put yourself in another’s position, but what if you simply would not mind this kind of disturbance if you were in another’s position to begin with?

In reality, I think most people are actually doing onto others as they’d have them do unto them, but unfortunately, most don’t seem to mind having a great deal of noise being “done onto them”.

Is there any hope of this changing? I suspect that, as with most problems, this comes down to economics. A desire for quietude can only really flourish when other, more basic material needs are met. There is no space in a mind occupied with issues of survival to pause and complain about noise. And so, for most Egyptians, attaining the luxury of peace of mind remains quite low on the to-do list of prosperity.