Sounds of Amman

As part of an exercise to engage with the people of Jordan, and to connect with the everyday citizen on a more personal and empathic way than merely reading an anthropological report, our class was given an assignment where we had to “live with” a piece of culturally significant art. It was our goal to think critically about what the cultural significance of the piece, format a series of questions, and then reach some sort of conclusion about Jordan’s culture based upon our knowledge thus far from in class-discussion, the required texts, and readings. The question I chose to focus on in my essay was: “What do the citizens of Amman experience when listening to the loudspeaker broadcast?” The following is a short summary of the main points I addressed.

One of the pieces we could chose to analyze was an audio file recorded in the city of Amman. In the audio file (TASCAM_0150.mp3), the sounds of an Arabic chant ring out from high over the subdued background sounds of modern city-life. The broadcast booms through the megaphone, filling the air and dominating the street. The lyrics reverberate off into the distance, competing with the constant hum of traffic. The blare of car horns, screeching of bus tires, and general whir of wheels breaks through the serene, almost divine, quality of the broadcast.  

It was stark how  ‘typical’ the chant felt when mixed with the traffic sounds. This must be an everyday occurrence for the cars to continue on completely un-abated by the chant; no one has stopped and pulled over to the side of the road to listen, there is no great silence as the people of Amman listen to this broadcast. Rather, life continues to compete noisily and busily with the broadcast, uninterrupted and unfazed.

In large cities, the daily hustle and bustle of the city fades into the background, becoming nothing more than normal background static to those who have lived there for long enough. The more you are surrounded by something, exposed to it, the more it becomes just another everyday part of life.

According to a self-reporting Pew study of US Muslims, only 48% of Muslims pray 5 times a day, and roughly an equal amount (47%) say that they make it to a Mosque for prayer at least once a week. This low stress of adherence to daily prayer and weekly Mosque attendance may be a cultural symptom of the US, as Christians and Jews have similar attendance numbers, however it is clear that just because you are a Muslim, doesn’t’ mean you always follow the tenets of the faith. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that there are those in Jordan who do not stop to pray five times a day – as this clip shows with the continuous hum of traffic, at least on occasion, some people in Jordan must drive through the daily prayers.

Has a similar dis-enfranchisement of religion happened in present day Jordan? Has the striking Islamic prayer that rings out through the city become mundane and everyday? Or does it retain the same religious and spiritual presence it would have generations ago?

Are the people of Amman still moved as I am when I hear this chant? Or is the otherworldly sense I experience lost to them, traded for a sense of familiarity and normalcy? Or perhaps, is the sound of traffic more human and beautiful than I tend to give it credit for? Either way, the beautiful duality of the Arabic chant floating on top of the gentle roar of traffic has powerful, stirring symbolic connotations – and demonstrates that in the face of the modern world, tradition and religious adherence still ring true.

2 thoughts on “Sounds of Amman

  1. Tanner Kelley

    This is an interesting topic to read about. It suggests that people may be losing interest in the practice of chanting. This is becoming common throughout the world. In my project I took a look at the Asian tradition of burning joss paper. While I was doing research I found alot of information on shop owners and people who have been around the tradition. Many either just do it out of habit and some don’t understand the connection between the custom and their families faith. As a result the tradition may get phased out over the next couple generations. So it’s interesting how something so different can be affected by the same sort of problems.

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  2. Lillian Vinson

    You raise an interesting question when you ask whether or not the people in the street have traded the spiritual, otherworldly nature of the call to prayer for normalcy. First, I think that maybe it seems otherworldly only to people who aren’t familiar with Islam. Second, I think it’s very possible for the call to prayer as heard here can be really familiar/normal for the people of the city while still being deeply spiritual. It reminds me of the way Afro-Caribbean cultures lack a solid dividing line between secular and sacred – it’s all the same, and maybe it’s that way in Jordan too.
    I think maybe the loudness of the speakers in the recording goes to show that there is an effort being made to include all things in the religious experience – you can hear it across the city, no matter what you’re doing.

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