Before each of the five daily prayers, a mu’adhdhin (“muezzin” or “crier”) calls Muslims to worship. The call is made about fifteen minutes before the prayer begins. Although each caller has his own style, the words of the call remain the same, beginning with four repetitions of allahu akbar (“God is great”). In the Muslim world, the call to prayer is broadcast from minarets and strongly amplified by loudspeakers.
In most Detroit mosques, however, the call is made inside the building. Minarets are appealing as decorative features, but only larger congregations can afford to build them, and rarely are these minarets functional.
In 1980, Muslims at the American Moslem Society in Dearborn won a court decision allowing them to broadcast their call to prayer publicly. Twenty-five years later, a similar controversy surfaced in Hamtramck, a working class town located within Detroit. Once solidly Polish and Catholic, Hamtramck now has large Bangladeshi, Bosnian, and Yemeni populations. In 2005, the city held a public referendum to determine if members of Al-Islah Jame Masjid could broadcast their call to prayer. Those in favor of the public call won the referendum by a wide margin.
These legal disputes occur almost exclusively in high density, working class immigrant enclaves. In Detroit’s outer suburbs, now home to professional, affluent Muslims, the call to prayer is not broadcast over loudspeakers. Muslims in these neighborhoods tend to live far from their mosques, and each other. They see no point in broadcasting a call to prayer that few Muslims would actually hear.