Relevance/Irrelevance of Azaan

'Kaankar-paathar jori ke masjid lai chunai/Ta chadhi mulla baang de kya bahira hua Khudai?'(A mosque is built with stones and pebbles/ A cleric from there calls; Is god hard of hearing?). This is an oft-quoted doha (couplet) attributed to Kabir. But the great social-reformer made an embarrassing mistake in his observation. He thought that azaan (a call for Islamic prayers) was invoking God or praying to the Almighty. Though Kabir was a brilliant observer of social and religious aberrations and anomalies with gimlet eyes, he was after all an unlettered man. So he often couldn't understand the import of many a ritual and custom of Hindus and Muslims. Azaan is a call for prayers. The muazzin (Arabic for the caller) calls the faithfuls to the mosque for offering namaaz. Hasrat Mohani says, 'Ek awaaz se bulaya daata ke darbaar mein/Sawaab se hi milti hai ye qismat' (Just one call can make devout followers rush to the mosque/Only great piety creates such sublime fate, the caller is imbued with).

Here lies the relevance or irrelevance of azaan. Young Professor Hamilton Gibb asked Allama Iqbal in an Arabic letter to the latter. This letter can still be seen and read at Lahore University's Department of Islamic Theology. The great Gibb asked Iqbal, 'Shouldn't faithfuls and devout Muslims come on their own to offer namaaz to Allah? Why should they be called when it's their fundamental duty? This is like a shepherd calling his sheep when it's time to go back home in the evening. Human beings aren't sheep...' The equally erudite Dr Muhammad Iqbal chimed in with the young scholar of Islamic Studies and wrote back with a Hadis (the compilation of Muhammad's teachings and sayings), mentioned in Hadis Qudsi (40 Hadis Qudsi) and Abu-Dawud’s collection. Iqbal wrote to Gibb, quoting the Hadis that Muhammad said to Bilal (Islam's first muazzin, who was a slave from North Africa, freed by Muhammad), 'Bilal, neo-Muslims need to be called to get accustomed to the newfound ways of Islam from their pagan beliefs. But as they'll evolve, they'll come on their own. There might not be any calling in future because faith is a matter of heart and one listens to his/her inner voice when it comes to worship.' 

What does the azaan mean?

Recital Arabic Transliteration Translation
4x ٱللهُ أَكْبَر Allāhu akbar God is the greatest.
2x أَشْهََدُ أَنْ لاَ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللهُ Ash-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāh I acknowledge that there is no god but God1.
2x أَشْهََدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رُسُولُ ٱلله Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-Rasul ullāh I acknowledge that Muhammad is the Messenger of God (After prophethood).
2x حَيَّ عَلَىٰ ٱلصَّلاة Hayya'alas-ṣalāh Hasten to prayer (Salah).
2x حَيَّ عَلَىٰ ٱلْفَلاَح Hayya ʿalal-falāḥ Hasten to success.
*(Only for Fajr prayer)
ٍٱلصَّلاَةُ خَيْرٌ مِنَ ٱلنَّوم As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm Prayer is better than sleep (Recited only for Fajr (pre-Sunrise) prayer's Adhan)
2x الله أكبر Allāhu akbar God is greatest.
1x لا إله إلا الله Lā ilāha illā-Allāh There is no god but God.


This is a very important aspect of Islam because an evolved Muslim or for that matter, any evolved worshipper needs no azaan or a call for prayer. Hakeem Sanaee writes in Persian that 'Footsteps carry you to the mosque well before the muazzin gets ready to call you. Eventually, he gives up happily, seeing you there before he calls.' 

So the issue of using loudspeakers or any modern technological equipment to call for prayers, gets redundant because elsewhere Muhammad himself opines that azaan should be so musical that it shouldn't break the slumber of others. It's worthwhile to mention that during Muhammad's times, everyone didn't accept Islam and there were Christians and Jews in the vicinity. Moreover, Islam puts an accent on musicality of prayers and prayer-related aspects. That's why Qira’at (way to recite the Quranic verses and there're seven ways of reciting the verses of Quran; Egyptian Qira’at being the most mellifluous) is so euphonic and when you get to hear the recital of Quranic verses (tilawat-e-Quran), you're moved beyond words. Even a hardcore atheist like yours truly, gets moved by the musical cadences of Quranic recitation. So it's really incongruous to use the loudspeakers to call faithfuls to the mosques. The problem with the followers of all religions is that they've not understood the symbolism, pristine totemism and archaic practices of their faiths and they still cling on to them obstinately.