Residents sit with cups of coffee outside their apartment building in Lod.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Lod Municipality has fined a mosque muezzin for issuing calls to prayer that violate bylaws against excessive noise, fueling recriminations amid a heated nationwide debate over a proposed ban on mosques’ use of loudspeakers.
An Arab city councilor responded that the step was unwarranted and part of a “political agenda” directed against symbols of the Muslim and Arab presence in the mixed city.
The fine of NIS 730, said by city councilor Abed el-Karim Azbarga to be the first such punishment in the city’s history, comes in advance of a preliminary Knesset vote expected soon on the government’s proposal to ban the use of loudspeakers for the call to prayer.
A leading Catholic clergyman, Jamal Khader, yesterday added his voice to Muslim opponents of the bill, saying it would fuel Muslim extremism and fundamentalism.
“It is seen as an attack against religion, which is not helpful at all for the future relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews in this country,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“Regardless of the text itself, it is seen as an attack and it will effect relationships and indirectly it will encourage people to be more fundamentalist towards other religions,” said Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala in the West Bank. “We don’t want to give excuses to fundamentalist Muslims to convince young people that the others are anti-Islam.’’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel upholds freedom of worship, but that the ban is needed to redress widespread complaints from citizens of noise disturbance from the amplified call to prayer.
Arab leaders have shot back that the problem can be handled through existing laws and dialogue and that the step is further indication of a racist approach by the prime minister.
The Arab League, as well as religious authorities in Jordan and Egypt, have condemned the bill. Some coalition parties have agreed to support a ban on night time and early morning use of loudspeakers, enabling them to be used during the day.
This would not affect the late afternoon sounding of the siren that announces the advent of Shabbat.
The Lod Municipality assessed the fine against Imam Mahmoud al-Far, muezzin of the Dawa Mosque in the town’s Pardes Snir neighborhood. A statement by the municipality said: “In recent years countless efforts have been made to find ways to deal with the disturbance of the calls of the muezzin, which are a blatant violation of the law on noise and harm the quality of life of residents. The efforts included dialogue with Muslim leaders to reduce the loudspeaker volume, but until now this hasn’t worked.”
The statement endorsed the government’s proposed ban on loudspeakers, saying that “levying fines in the best case will be a pinpoint solution for one mosque or another, but won’t solve the phenomenon in its entirety.”
The municipality said it does its utmost to balance between the need to safeguard the environment and prevent noise and to uphold freedom of religion and religious- cultural tradition. “The mayor and city leadership respect the Muslim religion and there is no attempt to harm it and the Arab residents of Lod, but in matters of law and order and everything connected to the public realm there is no difference among Lod residents,” it said.
A municipality source, who asked not to be identified, said: “We have countless complaints. Children are woken up [by the call to prayer] and can’t go back to sleep. They go to school tired.”
However, councilor Azbarga said the Dawa mosque’s call to prayer is at “acceptable and unbothersome decibels.”
“We have no interest in disturbing people or provoking Jews,’’ he said, adding that the real noise problems in Lod “come from trains and the airport.” The sound of the muezzin should be respected as “part of the landscape” of Lod, he said.
Azbarga said the growing influence of national religious supporters of the hardright Jewish Home Party in city hall is behind the fine. “There is cynical exploitation of a political agenda here. They want to Judaize the city and remove the signs of Muslimness and Arabness in Lod,” he said.
Azbarga added that by issuing the fine the city wanted to gauge the Muslim reaction.
“There is massive objection to this,” he said. “You can’t give up customs and ceremonies. This is a big mistake. It heats up the extremists on the Muslim side. It doesn’t help calm matters.”
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