Monday, August 29, 2011

The Call to Prayer ~ to amplify or not?

For a first time visitor to Morocco, one of the most immediate indications that they are in an Islamic country is the sound, five times a day, of the call to prayer. Because a majority of the mosques now use microphones and amplified speakers, the sound is all pervasive. And there lies a problem - not for visitors but for the locals.

Each year the Moroccan Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs,the body in charge of all the mosques, receives hundreds of complaints about the noise level. According to residents in Fez, for example, the problem is that the proximity of the mosques means that there is a confusion of sound and that some mosques may be boosting the sound level to be heard above other nearby mosques.

The problem is not just in Fez. The latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs shows that there are around 48,000 mosques in Morocco - 13,000 in cities and 35,000 in villages. This means that every 5,000 people are served by seven mosques.

And now an "unholy row" has broken out over the use of microphones.

In a recent interview with Al Arabiya, Moroccan researcher on Islamist movements, Saeed Lakhal, called upon the government to ban the use of microphones in mosques on the grounds that they disturb residents in the neighboring areas not only because of the sound, but also owing to the ideas they spread.

“Many mosques in Morocco are not exclusively used for spiritual purposes and serve instead as a channel to propagate political ideologies,” he told Al Arabiya. “This is especially true when it comes to mosques run by Islamists.”

Mosques all over the country, Lakhal added, are under the supervision of the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs and are accordingly bound by specific regulations.

“This means that those movements that run mosques either abide by those regulations or give up control over the mosques all together.”

Lakhal added that using microphones also bothers those living in residential areas close to mosques. This becomes more obvious in Ramadan when the taraweeh prayers, performed every evening throughout the holy month and during which a part of the Quran is read, are also transmitted via microphones.

“Using microphones becomes a necessity only in the case of over-crowded mosques when people have to pray outside and need a microphone to hear the prayer.”

Regarding the sensitivity of the issue and how offended some people might be by his request, Lakhal stressed there is nothing in what he suggested that could be considered offensive to Muslims or Islam.

“The strength of faith is never measured by how loud the calls for prayers are and mosques that do not use microphones still do their religious job.”

Lakhal pointed out that the complaints of residents about mosque microphones, which are filed at the Ministry of Endowments, prove that people do not approve of the practice.

Preacher and Islamist scholar Dr. Mohamed Boulouz accused Lakhal of having ulterior motives and of trying to strip Morocco of its Islamic identity.

“Lakhal’s ideas go against the majority. Who is he representing? And to whose benefit is he doing this?” Boulouz told Al Arabiya.

Boulouz added that Lakhal’s request is in line with the “poisonous” ideas he promotes in his articles.

“He pretends he is a modernist while he is in fact an anti-religious exclusionist.”

Boulouz argued that Lakhal’s proposal is not valid since there are very few mosques in Morocco in comparison to the population and the majority of worshippers pray outside.

“So instead of calling for building more mosques, he wants to silence the already existing ones.”

As for the taraweeh which Lakhal complained about, Boulouz pointed out that those prayers are performed in the early evening.

“At this time the streets are crowded and people are coming and going. In Ramadan, people stay up till very late.”

Boulouz added that if Lakhal was sincere in wanting to make sure residents are comfortable, he should also call for a law that prohibits microphones in parties and carnivals.

“Don’t those microphones in events organized by modernists like him disturb the sick, students who have exams, employees who have work, and others?”

The Al Arabiya content was written by Hassan Al Ashraf and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid. Photos: Suzanna Clarke, Sandy McCutcheon


I need my sleep, for allah sake!!! said...

There is a big difference between using a microphone during a carnaval / party once in a while, or EVERY SINGLE DAY, from early in the morning till late in the evening! Every time I go to Morocco I get tired of not getting enough sleep. Mosques competing each other and imams who are screaming and shouting in these megaphones. The whole neighbourhood (my family included) was so delighted when the microphone once broke. Nobody, except of the children, dared to talk about it and show their joy of finally getting a quiet night, some piece and rest. It's ridiculous. And a lot of people do'nt complain about it, afraid to be accused of not being a good muslim. This has nothing to do with the islam. I bet there is no rule of microphones written in the Koran.

Abd Rahman said...

As a frequent visitor to Fez I have never thought the Adhan loud or obtrusive. The objection of Saeed Lakhal is I I think more to do with his anti Islam secularist views. How can these words cause offence to anyone?:
"God is Greatest
I bear witness that there is no God except the One God
I bear witness that Muhammad is God's Messenger
Come to prayer
Come to success
God is Greatest
There is no god except Allah"

Here in the UK, there are people who complain about, the noise of the church bells that also signify the call to prayer for Christians. We are heading towards a world where secularism rules but do we really want a world where everything is bland and no differences between cultures?

jewelmaroc said...

Most of the Europeans I meet in Chefchaouen apreciate the importance of the call to prayer including the early morning call. We listen to the subtle overlapps from the many mosques in the city as they never start at the same time and I hear them as an intreaging music.
they are amplified but not to the degree that is oppressive. Though just below our rooms a zaouia has recently installed a powerful amplification system which has upset local residents as it dominant and the chanting continues for ages entirly blocking the main mosque and the other mosques.
I heard that in Cairo the mosques all broadcast the same call at the same time as amplification compitition had become so fierce. Dont know if it is true.
In Sydney Australia there are no church bells allowd nor is the call to prayer.

'abdul muHib said...

Just before Mubarak was deposed, he declared that all Cairo mosques would simultaneously be broadcast with one voice, via computer. My guess is his deposition has ended that idea.

Personally, I really love hearing the call to prayer. But it does seem to me to be an innovation. After all, Mohammed (pbuh) did not use it.