Of Sukkahs and Muezzins

DeVonna R. Allison

© Copyright 2018 by DeVonna R. Allison


Muezzin giving the call to prayer.

 My bed groaned as I turned, restless, in the dark. I was trying in vain to snatch a few more hours of sleep. An oscillating fan in the corner pushed warm air around the room and I reached for my phone to check the time. It was just 4:30 in the morning. Doing quick calculations in my head I realized why I was not sleeping. My body clock was set to the American Eastern Standard Time zone where it was currently 11:30 am. But I was not at home. I felt a thrill of excitement when I recalled I was in the heart of the Middle East, in Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.

I threw the covers back, careful not to disturb BethAnne, my roommate, and crept onto the landing outside our bedroom door. Immediately to my left were the stairs that led down to the main floor of the house. Across the hall were the bedrooms where my other travel companions slept. My bare feet moved noiselessly across the cool ceramic tiles of the floor and I slid a glass door aside to exit the house and enter the balcony. Outside, I relaxed and breathed deeply, refreshed by the pre-dawn air. The heat would return with the sun.

Below me, in the dusty yard, moonlight cast shadows around a small chicken house and a cluster of fruit trees, each carefully tended by our host family. The real view, however, was in the expansive valley beyond the concrete block wall that bordered the home and the city. There, stretching across the horizon, were the gently undulating desert hills of Samaria, dotted with distant Palestinian villages. Streetlights sparkled in the folds of darkness while stars gleamed in the cloudless night sky to dizzying effect. I drank in the sight, savoring the moment. I knew I was realizing a dream by visiting this ancient land. I was struck by the peacefulness of the hour in such contrast to the prevalent tensions and strife. It is a cruel irony that the birthplace of three of the world major religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is also home to some of the most virulent hate and violence on earth.

Behind me on the balcony was my host family’s sukkah, a temporary shelter built outdoors by Jewish people during the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah represents the forty years the Old Testament Israelites wandered in the wilderness in temporary shelters following their exodus from Egypt. Each sukkah is different, the unique creation of the family who makes it. The top of this sukkah’s metal frame was loosely covered by palm branches, its sides draped with sheer fabric. I entered the sukkah, lay down on a chaise and looked up through the scant ceiling. According to tradition the roof was constructed so that the stars could be seen through it. A light breeze rippled the gauze materials that made up the walls. Peace enveloped me and a unique joy that I’d only experienced since my arrival; it was the joy of being present in this ancient land so dear to my Christian faith.

My brief reverie was interrupted by a faint crackling sound echoing through the darkness. This was followed by a man’s voice, monotone yet lyrical.

Allahu akbar, allahu akbar…” the voice intoned and I realized, I was hearing the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. The man issuing the adhan is called the muezzin. It was the first of five such calls that would issue forth that day and probably the one easiest to hear from my distance due to the quiet early morning.

Each Palestinian community throughout the territory has its own mosque, its minaret towers visible for miles. Speakers on the minarets were crackling to life as I listened amazed. Each crackle was the switching on of a speaker and was followed by another muezzin’s voice. The call to early-morning prayer was being issued by each mosque in the valley, individually inviting its own faithful to pray. Within minutes the sleeping valley was echoing with the adhan from every corner.

Goosebumps crawled along my flesh as I sat up in the sukkah, listening to the voices until one by one they faded. I lay back in the sukkah again, heavy-eyed yet still unable sleep. Now however, it wasn’t the time change that kept sleep at bay, it was my prayers that kept me awake, my prayers that our rich cultures, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, could recognize how inextricably we are bound to one another.

I am a freelance writer and Marine Corps veteran. My work has been featured in a number of publications both in print and on the internet. I live in southern Michigan with Earl, my husband of 36 years. When I’m not writing I enjoy traveling and listening to live music performances. This essay was written after a visit to the Palestinian territories of Israel in 2015.

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