In Hollywood, The Actor Who Gives the Call to Prayer

Benyoucefby John Burnett, NPR

It is said, in Los Angeles, that Abdulwahab Benyoucef's call to prayer is so lovely and so clarion that Muslims come to the mosque just to hear him. About three times a week, the Algerian actor -- who has shortened his name to Ben Youcef -- comes here in his traditional tunic to stand before the men kneeling toward Mecca.

He closes his eyes, holds one hand over his ear, leans into a microphone and sings out the Arabic words in extended phrases.

"It's a way to call people to come to worship God," Ben Youcef says. "That's the purpose of the adhan [the Arabic name for call to prayer]. I bear witness that there's no God except God. I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God. Come to what's good, come to prayer."

In his other life, the 34-year-old Ben Youcef is one of Hollywood's A-list Muslim actors. Lately, because of his complexion, he's been getting more and more generic ethnic roles. "Because in commercials," he says, "a lot of times I'm actually playing a Latin guy or an ethnically ambiguous guy." ...

The call to prayer is not music, per se. Music is not allowed in the mosque. But the five-times-daily prayer call can be musical. Ideally, a muezzin is sought out for a voice that inspires and awes -- a voice like an instrument.

"When you hear a beautiful voice, it connects the soul to the divine in a way that words sometimes cannot do," says Jihad Turk, a friend of Ben Youcef's and president of Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school in Southern California.

Ben Youcef, with his Aladdin-like good looks and mellifluous voice, has the goal of becoming Hollywood's most recognizable Arab actor -- the next Omar Sharif -- just so long, he says, as he can remain true to Islam. (Read or listen to the full article, including the adhan)

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