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In Israel, Muslims Hold 'American Idol'-Style Call-To-Prayer Contest

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In Israel, Muslims Hold 'American Idol'-Style Call-To-Prayer Contest

In Israel, Muslims Hold 'American Idol'-Style Call-To-Prayer Contest

In Israel, Muslims Hold 'American Idol'-Style Call-To-Prayer Contest

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/523997045/523997046" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Muslims in Israel held an American Idol-style competition for young men who chant the call to prayer. It was held in protest of an Israeli effort to quiet the calls in the early morning hours.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Some Muslims in Israel recently held an "American Idol"-style contest for the best teen muezzin. That's the person who chants the call to prayer. Muslims are a minority in Israel, and the contest served as a sort of protest.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

These calls to prayer ring out from mosques often through loudspeakers five times a day beginning in the early morning. Israel's prime minister says he's gotten complaints about them. There's support in Parliament to silence or control their volume.

SHAPIRO: That brings us back to that contest. NPR's Daniel Estrin went to see it in the city of Jaffa.

(CROSSTALK)

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Forty teenage boys auditioned, and nine made it to the semifinals of the Young Muezzin Competition. The muezzin is the one who chants the azan, the traditional call to prayer which begins, God is greatest.

ABDEL FATTAH ZIBDEH: (Singing in foreign language).

ESTRIN: That's contestant Abdel Fattah Zibdeh, an 18-year-old law student and volunteer muezzin, singing his preferred melody for the early morning call.

FATTAH ZIBDEH: (Singing in foreign language). It helps people to get up.

ESTRIN: He says it's a gentle way to wake believers for prayer. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he's gotten complaints from Jews, Christians, even Muslims of excessive noise. Two bills are making their way through the Israeli Parliament to silence the call to prayer before 7 a.m. and lower the volume at other times.

AHMAD ABU LSAN: (Speaking in Arabic).

ESTRIN: "It is a war against Islam," says one of the competition judges, an air conditioner installer and muezzin lover named Ahmad Abu Lsan. "Today it's the call to prayer. Tomorrow, it will be the Muslim headscarf. Next time, it'll be something else," he says.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bismillah, bismillah.

ESTRIN: The emcee does a sound check using a word from a prayer instead of testing, testing. And then one by one, the teenage contestants stand before a panel of judges just like "American Idol." Here are some samples.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language).

ESTRIN: Inside the walls of the classroom where the semifinals are being held, the focus isn't on the prayer controversy but on the artistic fine points of the call.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: The judges reference the eight different maqamat, the melodic modes used in calls to prayer. They name-drop famous muezzins. They warn a contestant who sings too high not to annoy his listeners.

ABU LSAN: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: "When you go up that tower and call the prayer," judge Abu Lsan tells me, "the audience is huge. The quality of voice has to be superior."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: The finals were held in a basketball gymnasium. It's a mix of prayer and political speeches. One guest speaker is the head of an Islamic movement who's been convicted in Israel of encouraging violence. He tells the crowd, "we must stop the Israeli crazies before the call to prayer law passes. We scream in their faces, God is greatest."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: But when the contestants take the stage, it's much more about song than screaming.

MARWAN QAWAQZEH: (Singing in foreign language).

ESTRIN: Thirteen-and-a-half-year-old Marwan Qawaqzeh, the youngest contestant, took the crown. The six finalists won laptops, speakers and free trips to Mecca.

MARWAN: (Singing in foreign language).

ESTRIN: Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jaffa.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The bills under consideration in the Israeli parliament would ban calls to prayer amplified by loudspeakers before 7 a.m. and regulate when calls to prayer may be amplified by loudspeakers at other times, but would not prohibit calls to prayer made without the use of loudspeakers.]

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Clarification April 17, 2017

The bills under consideration in the Israeli parliament would ban calls to prayer amplified by loudspeakers before 7 a.m. and regulate when calls to prayer may be amplified by loudspeakers at other times, but would not prohibit calls to prayer made without the use of loudspeakers.