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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For Muslims this is Ramadan, the month of fasting and personal reflection. And today we continue our series Ecstatic Voices: Sacred Music in America with a listen to the Muslim call to prayer. It's known in Arabic as adhan. It's not music per se. Music is not allowed in the mosque. But the five times daily call to prayer can be musical and quite beautiful. NPR's John Burnett found a muezzin, or prayer caller, in Hollywood who leads a double life.

ABDULWAHAB BEN YOUCEF: My name is Abdulwahab Ben Youcef. I am from Algeria, was born in Algiers. I live here in America in Hollywood, in Santa Monica.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: It's said around Los Angeles, that Ben Youcef's call to prayer is so lovely, so clarion, that people come to the mosque just to hear him.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

BURNETT: About three times a week, Ben Youcef can be found here wearing a traditional tunic that covers the Arabic tattoo on his right forearm. He stands before men kneeling devoutly on the carpeted floor, facing northeast toward Mecca.

ABDELWAHAB BEN YOUCEF: It's a way to call people to come to worship God. That's the purpose of the adhan. I bear witness that there is no God except God. I bear witness that Mohammad is a messenger of God. Come to what's good, and come to prayer.

BURNETT: In his other life, Ben Youcef is one of Hollywood's A-list Muslim actors. And lately, because of his swarthy complexion, he's been getting more and more generic ethnic roles.

YOUCEF: In commercials a lot of times I'm actually playing a Latin guy or an ethnically ambiguous guy.

BURNETT: But on television and in movies he usually plays cocky, conflicted young Muslim men. And since 9/11, his characters have often been predictable. Here he is on NBC's "Law & Order" being arrested in connection with a bombing plot.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "LAW & ORDER")

JEREMY SISTO: (as Detective Cyrus Lupo) Turn around and put your hands on the car.

YOUCEF: (as Sameer Ahmad) What have you got here, a whole cop army?

ANTHONY ANDERSON: (as Detective Kevin Bernard) Possible terrorist connection, we don't take chances.

YOUCEF: (as Sameer Ahmad) Terrorist? No. You've got it wrong.

ANDERSON: (as Detective Kevin Bernard) You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say...

YOUCEF: (as Sameer Ahmad) I'm not a terrorist.

ANDERSON: (as Detective Kevin Bernard) ...can and will be used against you...

BURNETT: So how do you harmonize your life as a devout Muslim and a muezzin with an actor who does sometimes play Islamic bad guys?

YOUCEF: It's not easy. I'm not going to lie to you. The bottom line is my Muslim friends have no idea what it's like to be an actor. And my actor friends have no idea what it's like to be a Muslim.

BURNETT: Ben Youcef says he has played terrorists, such as a Palestinian member of Black September in Steven Spielberg's "Munich." But he's also turned down roles that he believes demean his community. He says he keeps his life in balance by reciting calls to prayer here at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, and at other L.A.-area mosques, doing what he's done since he was eight years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

BURNETT: In Muslim countries the call to prayer is broadcast throughout the city from the tops of minarets. In non-Muslim countries, as a courtesy to neighbors, it's chanted inside of mosque walls. Ideally, a muezzin is sought out for a voice that inspires and awes. A voice like an instrument, says Jihad Turk. He's a friend of Ben Youcef's and president of Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school in Southern California.

JIHAD TURK: And when you hear a beautiful voice, it connects the soul to the divine in a way that words sometimes cannot do.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

BURNETT: The handsome 34-year-old Algerian with the mellifluous voice would like one day to merge his life of faith and his acting career.

YOUCEF: The Muslim community, we don't have leading men or the good guys. As a kid I used to watch Tom Cruise or De Niro, Pacino, Denzel Washington. None of those guys are Muslims.

BURNETT: Abdelwahab Ben Youcef would like to become Hollywood's most recognizable Arab actor. He says he wants to be the next Omar Sharif, so long as he can remain true to Islam.

John Burnett, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: We'd like to hear from you. Go to NPRMusic.org and tell us about sacred music in your community.

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