Walking to the 6 train, I pass a falafel cart and notice that its owner is face down on the sidewalk. At first, I think he’s looking for something – maybe loose change that rolled underneath the cart – or that he’s sick. Then I see that he’s shoeless and crouched prostrate on a flattened garbage bag. It’s just past 5 o’clock and he’s praying; ignoring onlookers and customers and responding to the call of his own personal azaan.
It made me think of my visit to Malaysia, when I kept an ear perked for what would have been my first exposure to a muezzin’s cry. I’d read about the azaan in novels and articles and so was very curious to experience it for myself. What would it sound like? Would it ring through the streets the way a Catholic Angelus echoes throughout a monastery? The English language newspaper listed prayer times and I wondered if I’d hear the azaan several times a day. I was confused and disappointed when I was in Malaysia for nearly two weeks and never heard the call. But home in New York, seeing the falafel man hunched over in the middle of the street in a city that might be far from his own home, I see that the muezzin’s call to prayer can actually be internal. That strikes me as beautiful.