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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Call to Prayer at Sultan Hassan Mosque (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

One of the largest mosques in the world, the Masjid al-Sultan Hassan is just one more reason to visit Cairo:

Built between 1356 and 1363 by the Mamluk ruler Sultan Hassan, the scale of the mosque is so colossal that it nearly emptied the vast Mamluk Treasury. Historians believe that the builders of this mosque may have used stone from thepyramids at Giza.

Early in construction, some design flaws in the colossal plans became apparent. There was going to be a minaret at each corner, but this was abandoned after the one directly above the entrance collapsed, killing 300 people. Another minaret toppled in 1659, then the weakened dome collapsed.

The early history witnessed by the mosque was as unstable as its architecture: Hassan was assassinated in 1391, two years before completion, and the roof was used as an artillery platform during coups against sultans Barquq (1391) and Tumanbey (1517).


Longing for the Muezzin’s Call

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

One of the things I find I most enjoyed — and, now, most miss — about my travels to the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Istanbul is the periodicity of the muezzin’s call to prayer. It greets you in so many unexpected ways.

Standing on the Mount of Olives, one call drifts across the valley from the Old City only to be washed over by another one down the way. But walk within its walls and it beckons you to stop. Sometimes sternly and at others as a mother would remind her child.

Call to PrayerWalk around a corner in Ramallah and the muezzin’s voice may greet you as a friend and wrap its arms around your shoulders; walk down another alley and it barks at you. Sit atop a rooftop patio in the oldest parts of Istanbul and several voices vie for your affections without competing with one another. The voices of small, underpowered speakers from a nearby local mosque provide background vocals for the melodic mix of the more prominent mosques like the Sultanahmet Mosque, the Blue Mosque, in what seems like a talent show of some of the world’s best.

And, then there’s the greeting from one’s home, as you can hear in the audio embedded audio above. It’s the maghrib athan, the fourth call that summons the faithful to prayer just after sunset, during Ramadan from what seems like an apartment window somewhere outside of Nablus.

One sees so many sites, eats so much delicious food, meets so many wonderful people. But it’s the rhythmic reminder that stays with me, a discipline I’ll cherish long after the memory of such encounters slowly erode themselves in my mind.

About the photo: The muezzin at the Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo demonstrates his vocal abilities in the liwan. (Photo by Christopher Rose/Flick, licensed under Creative Commons)


Sounds from Jerusalem: Hymns and Muezzins’ Calls from the Mount of Olives

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor, and Chris Heagle, producer

Asian Christians sing hymns on the Mount of Olives
(photo: Trent Gilliss)

We happened upon the most magnificent soundscape today while viewing the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. It’s a serendipitous few minutes of audio that gives you a feel of the magic of this sacred land and the way religions, people, and cultures continually bump up against one another.

What you first start hearing is a group of Evangelical Christians from South Korea singing a classic hymn. But, within a minute, just as these pilgrims finish, a new wave laps up the side of the ridge. A muezzin calls Muslims to prayer. Then, in stagger-start style, the muezzin’s call from Al-Aqsa Mosque summons another group of Muslims. The recitations float freely and nimbly, almost as if you could waft the layers of sound at your choosing.

We hope you enjoy! I’d appreciate hearing your reactions.