Regulating loudspeakers does not limit the freedom to pray as some people may argue but they only help ensure that the sound that comes out of Masjids is more harmonious and soothing, Suhail Ahmad writes

 The holy month of Ramadan witnesses prolonged and indiscriminate use of loudspeakers, much to the discomfort of people, especially patients, exposed to high decibel sounds. The number of Masjids has increased exponentially in Kashmir over the years and so has the number of their loudspeakers.

Use of loudspeakers has become a source of contention in many Muslim countries. In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs ordered Masjids to shut down external speakers and only resort to the internal one, except during calls for prayers, Friday prayers and Eids. The Saudi officials justified the move saying that people living in the vicinity of the Masjids complained of the loud noise of the speakers. Special teams were constituted to ensure that Imams abide by the new regulations during Ramadan. Saudi government had also banned small Masjids from using loudspeakers for the nightly Tarawih prayer.

In Indonesia, home to world’s largest Muslim population and around 800,000 Masjids, the government responded when people started complaining about the ‘loudspeaker war’ in the neighborhoods having more than one Masjid. The complaint may sound quite familiar for many Kashmiris.

Indonesian government set up a team to investigate complaints about its Masjis being too noisy. Officials of the country’s Masjid council gathered samples of noise from places of worship in several cities and found loudspeaker volumes set too high. Ideally, the call for prayer from a Masjid should only be heard in its immediate or catchment area and not beyond. The Indonesian authorities even deployed technicians across the country to help fine-tune Masjid loudspeakers and give advice on how best to arrange speakers to reduce noise.

Such measures do not limit the freedom to pray as some people may argue. They only help ensure that the sound that comes out of Masjids is more harmonious and soothing.

People living near the Masjids, especially the elderly and ailing ones, are exposed to blaring loudspeakers all the time when they are in dire need of rest and silence.

Some years back, ‘Rising Kashmir’ carried a news story on the subject under the headline ‘Clarion Call For Judicious Use Of Loudspeakers In Mosques’. The story quoted religious scholars, civil society members and health experts, calling for limited use of loudspeakers within the precincts of the Masjids.

Chief cleric and senior Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had stressed on the need to convince people about the need for restricted use of loudspeakers in Masjids.

“We will raise this issue and formulate a joint mechanism to start a sustained campaign to make local Imams and people aware about the hazards of prolonged usage of the loudspeakers,” Mirwaiz had told Rising Kashmir. He could not achieve much headway in this regard.

Similarly, Qazi Mufti Imran of Darul Uloom Bilaliya, Lal Bazar had maintained that unnecessary use of loudspeakers should be avoided.

“It should only be used either for calling prayers (Azaan) or on Friday when there is large gathering of people outside the Masjids,” Imran had said.

He had put the onus on the local Imams to limit the use of loudspeakers in their Masjids.

Prolonged exposure to noise has been known to have adverse effects on health and may cause hearing impairment, hypertension and cardiovascular complications besides annoyance and sleep disturbance. Any noise which becomes intolerable for a human ear is harmful. Noises above 115db can even lead to deafness. Experts have also reported that exposure of an expecting mother to prolonged noise of loudspeakers can be hazardous for the fetus.

However, it is hard to convince some self-proclaimed custodians of religious affairs about the need to be more judicious in the use of loudspeakers. Some of them even treat the plea to lower the volume of loudspeakers as a blasphemy. It’s difficult to make them understand that faith is not measured in decibels and it can certainly not be amplified by loudspeakers.

In her interesting paper ‘The Acoustics of Muslim Striving: Loudspeaker Use in Ritual Practice in Pakistan’ Naveeda Khan cites Intizar Hussain’s novel ‘Tazkira’. The novel is set in post-Partition Lahore. The protagonist of the novel, a muhajir (refugee), is unable to feel at home anywhere. Reinforcing his sense of dislocation, his elderly companion, ‘bu amma’ complains bitterly that she misses the sound of the azan (the call to prayer). Amma recollects how the azan used to punctuate her days in her haveli in a busy neighborhood back in India. Without it, her days run uneventfully one into the other. In their next house, Amma quickly realizes what it means to live in the shadow of a mosque. It was once a barkat (blessing), she grumbles, that has been turned into a curse by the loudspeaker, which she calls a ‘shaitani ala’ (satanic instrument). The protagonist describes Amma’s efforts to shut out the sounds from the mosque that now make her efforts to say her prayers a daily battle. They eventually have to leave this house as well.

Before we get a similar feeling to that of the fictional character of ‘bu amma’, it is time we use the Masjid loudspeakers more judiciously.  

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