In 2008, during a desperate search for an apartment, a realtor showed me an open loft on Bedford Avenue, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. As we stood in this empty apartment, a voice which I now know belongs to Muhammad Bari called out the prayer from the local mosque, and I turned to the realtor and said, “I feel like I’m in Cairo.” I immediately signed the lease.
That voice has cut through the darkest and most difficult moments in my life and awakened something inside of me. It has caused me to stop worrying and finally weep and move on. It has transported me around the world during times when I was too sick to leave my bed. It has inspired me.
Throughout the years, I would occasionally ask around the neighborhood: “Who sings the call to prayer?” People told me, “Muhammad,” but with no further explanation. We finally met when our paths converged in a local halal grocery, on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street, where he works as a part-time butcher and shopkeeper.
At the mosque, Masjid At-Taqwa, a few doors down, Muhammad Bari is a custodian, teacher, and, most days, the man who calls the prayer, the azaan. He works every day, rising before dawn to awaken the devoted, calling three times over the course of the day and again at night.
Bari was born in Guinea in 1967 to a large, pious Muslim family. He moved to Liberia when he was eighteen to work, then lived through the Liberian civil war. He and his wife and young daughter saw their general store raided by rebels, and fled back to Guinea with only the clothes on their backs. “I saw a lot. You know war, sometimes you see people that die on the street,” says Bari. “One day they came in the morning, they knock on the door, we have to open. They take everything we have in the store.”
He moved to Brooklyn in 1999. A year later he found the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque, where an imam noticed his voice.
“When you call the azaan, you communicate with Allah. Nobody is in between.”
– Pearl Gabel
* * *
God is great (4X)
I bear witness that there is no God except Allah(2X)
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God (2X)
Hurry to prayer (2X)
Hurry to success (2X)
God is great (2)
There is no God except Allah
* * *
Pearl Gabel is a staff photographer and multimedia journalist at New York Daily News. On Twitter as @PearlGabel.
Valerie Lapinski is a multimedia journalist, editor and producer. She has worked for Time, The New York Times, WNYC radio, and KCAW-FM in Sitka, Alaska. On Twitter as @Lapinski.
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