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The Acoustics of Muslim Striving: Loudspeaker Use in Ritual Practice in Pakistan

  • Naveeda Khan (a1)

The protagonist of Intizar Hussain's novel Tazkira (1987) is a hapless muhajir, or refugee, in Lahore, Pakistan in the period shortly after the 1947 Partition of India, which witnessed the pell-mell transfer of Hindus and Sikhs to India and Muslims to Pakistan. He writes that while others were busy seizing abandoned sites in which to live, he was unable to feel at home anywhere. To compound his sense of dislocation, bu amma, his elderly companion, complains bitterly that she misses the sound of the azan, the call to prayer, in the first house they rent in an outlying area of Lahore, as yet forested and relatively un-peopled. Bu amma recollects how the call used to punctuate her days in her haveli, or mansion, in a busy neighborhood back in India. Without it, her days stretch out ahead of her, running uneventfully one into the other. How is it possible, she wonders, that one could be in this place created for Muslims and not hear the azan? In their next house, bu amma quickly realizes what it means to live in the shadow of a mosque. It was once a barkat (blessing), she grumbles, that has been turned into a curse by that satanic instrument (shaitani ala), the loudspeaker. The protagonist describes bu amma's efforts to shut out the sounds from the mosque that now invade her thoughts, shred her concentration, and make her efforts to say her prayers a daily battle. They eventually have to leave this house as well.

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