Volume control: Permissible in Islamic world, incendiary in Israel

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Mosque behind the Via Dolorosa in the Old CIty of Jerusalem (Photo:Avishai Teicher/PikiWiki)

Israel’s ministerial committee passed a draft bill on Sunday to reduce excessive noise from the country’s 400 mosques.

The bill would ban use of outdoor loudspeakers for the Muslim call to prayer five times a day and for broadcasting sermons. It does not seek to ban non-electronic broadcasts and the legislation applies to other religious communities as well.

The bill, which is yet to be approved by parliament, has met with staunch opposition from Muslim leaders within Israel, despite the practice by many Muslim countries of imposing legislative controls on loudspeakers.

The legislation was proposed by Knesset Member Moti Yogev of Beit Yehudi and is supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu cited numerous complaints about early morning disturbances from members of all communities and compared the legislation with similar measures taken in many European nations. He also stressed Israel’s commitment to freedom of religion.

“Muslims, Jews and Christians suffer from this,” Netanyahu said. “I cannot count the number of times that civilians have approached me from all strands of Israeli society who complain about the choice and the suffering which is caused by the excessive noise from houses of worship.”

However, Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, of the Joint List party, like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, interpreted the bill as an attack on the Arab public, presumably referring to Muslim sections anyway.

“Its whole goal is to create an atmosphere of hatred and incitement towards the Arab public,” Odeh said. “There are already noise laws that apply to mosques and it is clear that the whole purpose of the bill is to label mosques as problematic. It is a clear harm to freedom of religion for Muslims and the continuation of the persecution led by the prime minister.”

Meanwhile former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Ekrima Sabri on Friday told worshippers at the al Aqsa Mosque that, “Anyone who is angered by the call of the muezzin, should leave (the country). Israel has no right to intervene with the call of the muezzin, because it is contrary to freedom of worship.”

He went on to accuse the Israeli military as the real source of noise pollution, in the form of tanks and jets.

Many religious leaders in the Muslim world have interpreted the call to prayer not as an act of worship, but simply as a means of calling worshippers to the mosque. They have, accordingly, taken action to address the implications of the early 20th century invention of loud speakers.

For example, in 2011, Grand Mufti Mohammed Alkobais of Muslim majority Dubai stated: “Aathan should be loud enough to call them (Muslims) to perform their most important duty in life, which is salaah, or prayer…Athaan is to inform and not to disturb. If the speakers’ volume is not correctly set, it needs to be corrected.”

Similarly in 2010, Saudi Arabia cracked down on the excessive use of loudspeakers, which can be heard 5 kilometers (3 miles) away and often compete with each other in densely populated areas, making their message unintelligible, including in Islam’s holy city of Medina.

In Bahah City in western Saudi Arabia, government officials removed 100 speakers from 45 mosques, according to Al Arabiya News. In Indonesia, home to Islam’s largest population, Vice President Boediono, caused national debate in 2012 by raising the issue of disruptive mosque volume, claiming that it was being widely whispered about in the streets.

And in highly populated Cairo, technology has been employed to coordinate the use of loud speaker timings in order to reduce disturbance.

Odeh, Sabri and Abbas have yet to propose an alternative solution for the majority of citizens disturbed by the minaret noise, but they might look to Israel’s innovative technology sector for solutions, such as transmitting the call to prayer via mobile phones for the benefit of subscribers.