Capturing Islam’s call to prayer on film

By WilliamPrentiss

On one fine day in Cairo, Egypt, a Ukrainian producer responded to the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. Producer Anna Kipervaser heard it emanating from the thousands of mosques in Cairo. Inspired, she set out to document as many of those voices as she could capture on tape. After three years, the fruit of her pursuit can be heard in archived recordings and now seen in the short film “Voices of Cairo.”

“Something happened, and I kept looking for it when I came to Chicago,” Kipervaser said. “I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t recorded, and I kept researching. It has never been done, and I found that it was my duty to do so. From then on it developed.”

Last year, Kipervaser’s effort to record individuals singing the traditional Adhan became the subject of a short documentary for the screen. The film’s production company, On Look Films, is now pushing for donations to fund a full-length film.

Columbia adjunct Film and Video professor Miguel Silveira directed the short and will direct the final documentary. Iranian-born Columbia student Ehsan Ghoreishi is the film’s sound designer. The project is sponsored by National Geographic Society and The Hartley Film Foundation.

Silveira went to Cairo with Kipervaser in August 2009 to make the short film. Silveira said he has done film projects about other people and their cultures. When he heard about Kipervaser’s project, he said it was exactly what he wanted to do.

“At that point we weren’t really thinking about the length of the film,” Silveira said. “I was just interested in the opportunity to get to know more about the call to prayer and be able to incorporate it in film format.”

While in Cairo, Silveira said the sound of thousands of people singing the Adhan overwhelmed and interested him. He said sharing the experience with people in the West is important because it communicates the human element of religion.

“I wanted to go in there, learn more about it and show it to as many people as possible through film,” Silveira said.

Kipervaser said her motivation for documenting the Adhan is to inform people about Middle Eastern culture and explore the power of group expression.

“How human beings are affected by group expression, that’s what interests me intellectually,” Kipervaser said.

Egyptian authorities recently decided to do away with the multitude of calls in favor of one Adhan through a loudspeaker. Other cities have already made that change, including Dubai, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Ehsan Ghoreishi grew up in an Islamic household in Iran and moved to the United States when he was 20. He said he doesn’t practice Islam, but considers himself a Muslim.

“Islam has become more of an identity than just a religion,” Ghoreishi said. “I feel a bit responsible to educate people and make sure the actual image of Islam is clarified.”

He was in Dubai in the summer of 2000 and heard the Adhan through a loudspeaker. He said the unification of the call made a big difference and didn’t give the same feeling as before.

Ghoreishi said hearing the Adhan makes him nostalgic for his home. Growing up, he remembers hearing the call five times a day, the first right before sunrise.

“Lots of times I’m on a balcony in the summertime in Iran, and I hear the morning Adhan,” Ghoreishi said. “It’s 4 [a.m.] or 4:30 a.m. and you start seeing the lights going on in the apartment buildings. Not everything, but maybe one light per apartment. It’s such a calming, soothing feeling … it’s very musical.”

For more information about the Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cairo project, visit