A significant portion of the nation is raging in fury due to the apparent audacity shown by a popular playback singer in his attempt to voice an issue that concerns many more people than just himself. This article is an effort to break down the matter at hand and analyse the very core of this heated debate.
To the uninitiated, last week, singer Sonu Nigam had created quite a stir with a tweet that expressed anger over being woken up by the azaan every day, in spite of not belonging to the Islamic faith. He termed it as ‘forced religiousness’ and sparked a controversial debate which also saw a fatwa being issued against him for having ‘sinned’ and going against Islam.
This may very well qualify as an anti-religious and offensive statement to most Islamic believers who hold their religious practices dear to them. However, the root cause of his problem received less attention and analysis from a nation that has recently begun to rebel at the drop of a hat via a weapon called social media and has taken it upon itself to label its citizens as ‘intolerant’ if anyone expresses a conflicting opinion.
The practice of amplification of the Muslim prayer via loudspeakers is an age old practice which was started in order to invite and call all believers to pray five times a day at the mosque. While praying to God is an essential and pious activity associated with all religions, its amplification is most commonly and regularly found in mosques. The entire prayer is recited on loudspeakers, so much so that the people in the area around the mosque, sometimes ranging as far as three kilometres are made to hear the same.
This is when not all have consented to being subjected to these prayers, especially at the break of dawn when most people are fast asleep and not everyone is a Muslim or wishes to be woken up at such an hour. A common contention against this is that India is a secular country and if other religions are allowed to use loudspeakers during special festivities, the same should be applicable to mosques across the nation. However, what one may simply and logically note is that they are not a daily phenomenon and the use of loudspeakers in such festivals is not 2-5 times on a daily basis, therefore, not causing discomfort to citizens in their day to day lives.
Having said that, I welcome any progressive decision that removes such hindrances from all other religious practices since I believe that all religions should be on an equal footing and the practice of using loudspeakers in a vicinity for propagation of one’s faith is unacceptable unless consented to. One simply cannot force another to be party to their rituals and most definitely cannot succeed in their endeavour to reach out to God by causing discomfort to fellow humans, be it any religion.
This is not the first time an objection has been raised to this as an order of the Bombay High Court back in September 2015 directed not only the removal of all illegal loudspeakers in mosques in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai but also prohibited any religious place from using them between 10 pm to 6 am without the necessary permit. A local resident of Navi Mumbai had approached the court and filed a Public Interest Litigation on the issue of illegal loudspeakers in mosques.
Therefore, the practical and most reasonable conclusion would be to realise that the recital of the azaan is essential and important to the Muslim religion, not the use of loudspeakers. One may very well hold dear and rightfully practice their religious rituals which are fundamentally guaranteed under the Constitution. However, they may not in any way be permitted to do so at the cost of others, some of whom may not essentially be believers or have any religious inclination towards any faith whatsoever.
In August 2000, the Supreme Court of India rightfully noted in a case before it (Church of God v. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Association, AIR 2000 SC 2773), “Undisputedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others nor does it preach that they should be through voice amplifiers or beating of drums. In a civilised society in the name of religion, activities which disturb old or infirm persons, students or children having their sleep in the early hours or during daytime or other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted.”
These observations go a long way in establishing certain basic ground rules that an individual or a sect must abide by while exercising their religious rights in furtherance of a healthy mutual co-existence in a society. The objection raised is not to the practice of praying but to the inconsequential method that has become commonplace in the religion. Islamic believers fearing a transgression of fundamental rights must realise and differentiate between the azaan and its amplification in order to be really able to do justice in the apparent battle to protect their religion.
It may be worthy to note that a country like Saudi Arabia, which has Islam as its state religion and requires all its citizens to be Muslims, recently in 2015, ordered mosques to only use internal speakers, except during calls for prayers, Friday prayers, Eid and the rainfall prayer.
According to arabnews.com, “The Ministry of Islamic Affairs prevented mosque imams from installing echo devices and transmutation cutting devices as the ministry said that mosques’ neighbours complained of the loud noise of the speakers and the interference of sounds from different mosques creating distortions.”
Another example from the numerous nations following the said rule is Israel, where the representatives of Israel’s Knesset have given their approval to what is known as the ‘Muezzin Bill’ banning religious institutions from using loudspeakers or public address systems to summon worshippers for prayers.
In light of the above observations, it is ironical when the population of a nation like India preaches the ideals of religious tolerance amongst masses, but themselves fail to respect and revere basic rights of others with regards to their very existence. Conflicting opinions and views are a way of life in a secular country, but what must change is the problem of perception.
If you refuse or fail to perceive one another as humans before anything else, you may end up running havoc in the garb of a religion that nowhere shields your actions, except in your depraved mind.
Note: Before terming this article as anti-Islamic or anti-religious, please note that I am not a believer of any religion and have absolutely no inclination or predisposition towards any faith whatsoever.