Recorded by Rachel Harris, Qiaomen Mosque 乔门寺, Lanzhou, 7am, 30 March 2014.
Short recorded excerpt from the climax of a three hour ritual. In 2014, this annual commemorative ritual for the birth of the Prophet was held a month later than normal due to an exceptionally cold winter. The large Qiaomen Mosque is hidden within a residential courtyard off a busy commercial street in central Lanzhou. Some 1000 people attended, at least a third of them women who sat in a screened area at the back of the mosque. Apart from a sermon and a short period of Qur’anic recitation, the main part of the ritual was filled by pairs of men reciting madāyah and zansheng (赞圣), Arabic words of praise, in a style that is uniquely local to the Gansu region. As different groups entered the mosque, each one was welcomed by a fresh burst of recitation from a welcoming delegation at the mosque door, while the main reciters seated within the mosque continued their own reciting, creating a rich polyphonic texture, albeit one that was heavily mic-ed and distorted. Many people were recording it on their mobile devices.
The recorded excerpt is taken from the end of the ritual. At this point, lighted incense sticks were distributed among the worshippers, and a prized Qur’an held in a carved wooden portable shrine was carried in procession out of the mosque. People jostled to touch it, the women overflowing their designated area and knocking over their screens in their efforts to get closer to the holy book. The recitation builds to a powerful climax, with numerous male voices joining in, the representatives of different mosques all reciting in their own slightly different styles.
(Place on map at: 桥门寺Lanzhou, Gansu, China)