Quite the controversy is raging over Israel’s proposed legislation aimed at muffling the five daily Muslim calls to prayer from local mosques. In recent decades, the call of the muezzin has been amplified by multiple loudspeakers, resulting in tremendous noise pollution starting at 4:30 AM every morning.
While Jewish residents have been most vocal in complaining about the muezzin loudspeakers, local Muslims have expressed outrage over the bill, which last week gained approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Arab Members of Knesset say the bill will limit religious freedom for Muslims in the country, and the Palestinian Authority has threatened to take the matter to the UN Security Council.
But when pressed on the issue, many local Muslims admit that the volume of the muezzin’s call is often excessive.
Nor has similar legislation in Muslim countries ever elicited such opposition.
In Egypt, for example, the use of loudspeakers to amplify the muezzin’s call is restricted. Muslim scholars at Al-Azhar University previously determined that the loudspeakers are a modern invention, and therefore have nothing to do with the Islamic law that mandates calling the faithful to prayer.
The spokesman for the Israel Embassy in London reminded everyone via Twitter that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also has a problem with noise pollution as a result of amplified daily calls to prayer.
The Arabic-language daily The National reported in 2011 that the UAE had limited the volume of mosque loudspeakers following repeated complaints by Muslim residents.
In June 2015, the AFP reported that Indonesia’s vice president had established an investigative committee to look into the problem of noise pollution caused by mosque loudspeakers. As the largest Muslim population country in the world, Indonesia has hundreds of thousands of mosques all blaring their calls to prayer at the same time.
Even in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, the government ruled that calls to prayer could only be amplified by a mosque’s indoor loudspeakers, and no longer using the loudspeakers fixed to the top of the minaret. The Arabic-language news portal Arab News reported over a year ago that Saudi imams had been required to remove the loudspeakers atop their minarets.
In Europe, Switzerland decided nine years ago to ban minarets altogether, and in Cologne, Germany approval to build a new mosque was only granted in 2007 after the local Muslim community undertook in write not to use loudspeakers to amplify its calls to prayer.
None of these decisions resulted in international crises.
The fact is that the excessive volume of the muezzin is a nuisance first and foremost to Muslim residents, and that includes in Israel. I personally know many Muslims in the Jerusalem area who can’t stand the daily harassment of the loudspeakers.
But the moment Israel’s government dares to intervene (and in exactly the same way as Muslims governments have in recent years) it is accused of being discriminatory and racist.