Arab League terms muezzin bill a 'very dangerous provocation'

Dozens of people including Balad party MPs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas demonstrated against the bill on Wednesday night in Jaffa.

November 17, 2016 20:28
3 minute read.
Jerusalem mosque

A man stands near a mosque opposite to a neighborhood in east Jerusalem November 13, 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Controversy over the government’s bill to ban outside loudspeakers from places of worship – meaning mosques calling the faithful to prayer – is reverberating regionally, with the Arab League condemning it and a Jordanian newspaper columnist warning it would harm the sensibilities of more than a billion Muslims.

The Knesset is due to hold a preliminary vote this week after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved aimed at lowering the decibels of daily calls to prayer that begin at about 4 a.m.

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Coalition parties initially agreed to support a ban that would apply to nights and early mornings, in order not to disturb non-Muslims, but approval of the ministerial bill was delayed by ultra-Orthodox leaders, who interpreted the proposed ban as also applying to the siren sounded in Orthodox neighborhoods to announce the beginning of Shabbat.

In Cairo, Arab League deputy secretary-general Ahmed Ben Helli on Wednesday termed the bill a “very dangerous provocation’’ and a “rejected escalation” by Israel, according to the Arab48 website. He added that the bill “strikes” against religious freedom. “We reject and condemn this Israeli step,” he said.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supports the bill, said that Israel is committed to freedom for all religions, but is also responsible for protecting citizens from noise. He said that citizens of all faiths have repeatedly complained to him about being disturbed by the amplified call to prayer.

Arab leaders counter that the call as it is currently made is a part of both religious practice and heritage and accuse the government of enmity toward the Islamic faith and Muslims.

On Wednesday, Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta, an educational institute and government body, condemned the bill, saying it “inflames the situation in the occupied territories and completely contravenes freedom of worship.” It called for international intervention to stop “these violations.”

Maher Abu Tir, columnist for Jordan’s Ad-Dustour newspaper, wrote that the bill has to be seen within the context of a broader attack on Islam, which he alleged includes the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and forcing out its Arab population, the raiding of al-Aksa mosque by settlers and harming graves. He called the bill “a criminal expression that violates more than a billion Muslims.’’ “It will lead to fateful consequences at all levels,” he wrote, focusing on its implications for al-Aksa Mosque. “If the Jordanian Wakf (Islamic trust) says ‘you must not obey the Israeli action,’ the occupation is liable to cut the electricity to the mosque and thereby prevent the call to prayer.”

“We must face the question today of what Jordan will do in the face of this Israeli approach and we must face the ramifications for the Arabs and Muslims and the Palestinian people,” Abu Tir wrote.

On Tuesday, the Jordanian government, which in 1994 was granted by Israel the role of custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, came out against the bill, with Undersecretary for Islamic and Wakf Affairs Abdullah Abadi saying “an occupier cannot make any change to the city it occupies and things must remain the same.”

Within Israel, Arab leaders continue to speak out strongly against the bill, after MK Ahmad Tibi on Tuesday called for civil disobedience against it if it becomes law. Rahat Mayor Talal al-Karnawi took a no less defiant tone on Thursday, saying he would “put a loudspeaker on every building in Rahat” if the muezzin bill is brought forward.

“They will sing Allahu akbar. This is very important for us that Arab citizens of Israel will be a part of the religious freedom.”

Dozens of people including Balad Party MKs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas demonstrated against the bill on Wednesday night in Jaffa. Protesters held up signs saying “The call to prayer won’t be silenced” and “Netanyahu and Bennett-fascism rules.”

Eliyahu Kamisher contributed to this report.

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