Israel – mosque noise

Visitors to the Middle East soon discover  that Islam has an irritating way  of calling its adherents to prayer. Five  times every day, a raucous chant breaks  out from a legion of loudspeakers, notifying  Moslems that it is time to drop  whatever they may be doing and drop  onto a prayer mat. For non-Moslems,  this is exasperating, especially when  pre-dawn wails rouse up people in the  small hours of the morning. 

To be Different 
Moslems do things differently. Just  as their year is neither the Jewish lunar  year nor the Christian solar year, but  a lunar year that does not really work,  so too, when they enacted how to call  people to prayer, they avoided the Jewish  shofar or Christian bell. Instead of  using unoffending flags or lamps, they  hit on the notion of having someone  scream from a tower top. To prevent  the muzzien (as these functionaries are  called) from peering down into people’s courtyards and windows, a blind  man was often chosen for the honor.

For centuries, people were not all  that bothered by the muzzien for after  all, there is a limit how loud a person  can shout, and it was handy to know the  various times of day. A previous article  discussed how residents of Moslem  countries, including Jews, utilized the  evening prayer call to reset their watches  to the zero hour that starts a new day  according to Arab Time or z’man Eretz  Yisroel. This system begins every new  day at sunset in correlation with Torah  hashkofoh. Seforim even discussed  how to correlate the muzzien’s call with  halachic sunset.

Indeed, the first muzzien call in the  USA bothered no one and was dismissed  as a cultural curiosity. In December  1893 when there was probably  no mosque in on either side of the  Rockies, the New York Times reported  that the ritual of calling Moslems to  prayer had finally crossed the Atlantic:  “For the first time in New-York’s  history, cosmopolitan as the city is, the  melodious call of the muzzien, celebrated  by every traveler in Mohammedan  countries was heard yesterday morning.  At 11 o.clock, Mr. Lant of Tarrytown  on the Hudson, who, like Muhammed  Alexander Webb [a famous American  born Moslem missionary] is a devout  follower of Islam, dressed in the picturesque  robes prescribed by the Moslem  ritual, leaned out of a third-story building  in the Union Square Building at 8  Union Square and chanted in the language  of the Koran the call to prayer.”  The trouble started when Moslems  began fixing powerful loudspeakers  onto their mosques and setting them on  volumes up to 130 decibels (the noise  of a jet engine) that makes them loudly  audible for as far as four miles away.

In places with many mosques, the effect  can be cacophonic. In Cairo, for  example, where muezzins cry out from  4,000 officially recognized mosques  five times a day, authorities have been  taking steps to reduce the noise.

In non-Moslem towns, the noise of  mosques can be enough to drive people  away. A 2004 article about a Moslem  community in Bridgeport, Connecticut,  mentioned how .most non-Muslims  moved away from the mosque neighborhood,  frustrated by traffic jams on  Fridays and the call to prayer that rang  out over mosque loudspeakers..

But, opposition to mosques’ noise  can make headway such as in Cologne,  Germany, where planners of a  new mosque agreed to a ban on loudspeakers  outside the building. Generally,  however, when people try to oppose  the Moslem impingement on their  peace and quiet, Moslems counter with  their favorite argument that they are as  entitled to freedom of religion as much  as anyone else. In Hamtramck, Michigan,  protests of Polish residents were  ineffectual so long as mosque calls  kept within the city’s noise ordinance.

Even in India where the Hindu and  Sikh majority is highly antagonistic to  Moslems, Moslems are free to install  mosque loudspeakers so long as they  are not used for political agitation. 

In Israel 
In Israel, the situation is stickier as  the government is leery of offending  Arab sensibilities even when Moslems  clearly contravene noise limits. In addition  to bothering Jewish communities  of Yehuda and Shomron, mosques annoy  inhabitants of Yerushalayim neighborhoods  such as Ramot and Neveh  Yaakov, and irritate Jews of towns with  mixed populations including Lod and  Haifa.

Indeed, the police are even reluctant  to interrupt Arab weddings, which  are among the noisiest celebrations on  earth. Earsplitting music continues until  two in the morning amidst the sporadic  bangs of rockets and fireworks.

A Yerushalayim community that has  suffered from noisy Arab weddings  for years and complains that the noise  seems to be getting worse, recently  received an ambiguous reply from a  community official.  “The problem of fireworks/shots/  loud noises at night has come to my  attention from a number of sources in  the community,” he wrote. “Here is  our advice: Any time someone hears  the noises the proper place to call is the  police. People have informed me that  the police push the responsibility over  to the army, this may be true but the  proper place for your complaints is the  police. The more complaints the better.  “Once the police see that there are  many complaints G. has assured me  that that the minhal [neighborhood  council] will back up the complaints  and demand action for the problem. If  you, the residents, don’t complain to  the police, we, the community center,  won’t have as much power in the matter  to move things along.”  “One must understand,” he warned,  “that the problem is complicated and  can theoretically involve political issues  on a national level and not just  personal ones. Please keep calling the  police to complain and we will do our  part in terms of pushing them to action.  Kol tuv and hopefully a quieter summer.”

Repeated attempts to restrict  mosques. noisemaking are only partially  successful as M.K.s attempts to  introduce legislation are drowned with  accusations of religious discrimination.

Two years ago, M.K. Aryeh Bibi of the  Kadima party promoted a bill to stop  the speakers from “awakening people  in the middle of the night for no apparent  reason.”

“There is no reason,” he  said, “why they can’t do what they do  in Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere, and  that is to have a “silent radio station”  which “awakens” every day at 4 o’ clock  with the call to prayer. This way, those  who want to wake up can do so; why  do they have to wake up the whole  world?”  At the time, a Jewish resident of  Chevron was taking matters into his  own hands by repaying the noise in  kind.  “The local mosques received money  from Saudi Arabia to buy high-quality  loudspeakers, which for some reason  they directed straight at my window,”  he said. “So I went out and rented some  loudspeakers myself, and played Shlomo  Carlebach and Mordechai Ben-  David – quality music – right back at  them. The Civil Administration came  and asked me to lower it, and I said I  would as soon as they turn down their  own. And they did!”

The political struggle has not let up.  This May, M.K. Anastassia Michaeli of  Yisrael Beitenu proposed legislation to  ban the muezzens’ noise pollution. She  complained in her proposal that .hundreds  of thousands of citizens in Israel,  in the areas of the Galilee, the Negev,  Jerusalem, Haifa and various areas in  the center, suffer daily and regularly from an environmental nuisance . the  noise of the muezzin call from the PA  systems of mosques. Accordingly, she  requests to forbid houses of prayer, including  mosques, from using PA systems.

The proposed law, which is an  amendment to the law for the prevention  of hazards, explicitly notes that  mosques will be prohibited from using  a PA system, and that the punishments  imposed on violators will include  heavy fines and prison time..

As usual, there were complaints that  the proposal was racist. Arab MK, Raleb  Majadele, claimed that, “This is  a dangerous and anti-democratic initiative  that harms religious worship,  which is a cornerstone in the declaration  of independence of the state of Israel.” 

Arabs Clamp Down 
Yet even Arabs know how to clamp  down on mosque noise when it suits  their purpose. In Saudi Arabia where  amplified muezzin calls and mosque  lectures reached such a crescendo that  they were disturbing other mosques, a  2009 report noted, “Ministry inspectors  have removed some 100 loudspeakers  from dozens of mosques in the city of  al-Bahah in western Saudi Arabia because  they were so loud they smothered  out the broadcasts of other mosques.  The ministry says some mosques have  speakers that can be heard as much  as five kilometres away. The result is  that mosques in close proximity drown  out each others’ broadcast to the point  that they are unintelligible even inside  the mosques. Government inspectors  are to travel throughout the country to  tackle the noise nuisance.”

Moslems also see nothing wrong  with cutting down the noise of other  religions. In north London, when the  Muslim neighbor of a church recently  complained he was unable to use his  garden or living room at weekends  due to its amplified music, drums and  loud sermons that made conversation  impossible, the neighborhood council  ordered the church to restrict its music  to twenty minutes.

Last year some, it seemed that Jewish  victory was in sight when the Palestinian  Authority in Ramallah surprisingly  banned the recitation of the  Islamic verses and muezzin calls over  external loudspeakers in the West  Bank. Accusing the Authority of doing  this in subjection to Jewish pressure  (the Authority denied this) Hamas announced,  “We warn the Fatah authority  in Ramallah against waging war  on religious people and institutions in  the West Bank. Those who are waging  this war on Islam and All-h will have  to bear the consequences of their actions.”

Yet, judging by the noise presently  emanating from mosques, the Authority’s rule against muzziens does not  seem to have taken hold, although there  is a decrease in mosques’ amplified lectures  that used to drone on for an hour  at a time. Perhaps there is hope that Israel  will one day be liberated from the  unwanted howl of the muezzin.

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