Proposed ban on mosque loudspeakers fuels bitterness among Muslim worshipers

"I hear the Shabbat siren on Fridays, and there’s no problem. Why should people be disturbed by the call to prayer? The call to prayer was here before the Jews came."

November 19, 2016 22:55
Israeli mosque

A mosque in Abu Ghosh with its minarets towering above. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The government’s bill aimed at forcing mosques to silence their loudspeakers is touching off anger among rank and file Muslim worshipers throughout Israel.

“This is rejected, it’s an attempt to erase the religion,” said Moni Aloleimi, 44, one of the worshipers coming out of services at Jaffa’s Grand Mosque on Friday. The sermon in the Ottoman-era mosque and in many other mosques in Israel on Friday was devoted to condemning the loudspeaker bill. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the bill is not against freedom of worship but rather is needed to protect citizens from disturbance resulting from amplification of the call to prayer. Coalition parties have agreed to support a ban that would apply to nights and early mornings.

In Jaffa, the imam, or prayer leader, termed the bill – which is expected to come up for preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday – a “challenge” to Islam, according to worshipers.

Whatever its intent, the bill is adding a fresh layer of resentment among people who already see themselves as discriminated against.

“We know the system, but we didn’t think it would reach this situation,” one worshiper who declined to give his name told The Jerusalem Post. “You [Jews] do this and then you talk about coexistence.”

Aloleimi, who runs a manpower company, said: “People can’t accept this. If there is no call to prayer, there is no prayer. And if there is no prayer, there is no religion.”

He said the call over loudspeakers is needed to “rouse and remind people that there is a god and to not do evil deeds.” Aloleimi, originally from Irbid, Jordan, warned that if the law goes through, “there will be an explosion and it will end very badly. It’s like when Sharon went up to Haram al-Sharif [the Temple Mount] and there was an intifada. You don’t infringe on the religion of an Arab. It starts with this and then they will take other steps like telling us we don’t need 20 mosques, that five is enough,” he added.

The call, made five times a day, dates back to the time of the prophet Muhammad, according to Muslim belief. It begins with saying Allahu akbar four times, and includes testimony that “there is no god except God” and that “Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

“Hurry to prayer” and “Hurry to success” it continues. In the call at dawn, “Prayer is better than sleep” is added.

Another worshiper, Ahmad Jabali, 29, an iron smith from the city of Taibe, near Kfar Saba, said the bill is “racism against Muslims.” He had little sympathy for complaints that its amplification disturbed people, saying, “it only lasts for a minute or so. People won’t know the prayer times” if the ban is imposed.

But Itamar Siani, a painter who lives in Jaffa, said he favors the bill.

“I’m not against praying, but the problem is noise. It disturbs people, it wakes you up, so if they lower it, what’s the problem? I hear the muezzin from my home. I hear it from the left, the right and from behind. Of course it wakes me, and sometimes the call from different mosques is not together, you’ll get one before, one after. It’s disturbing. It’s just like if you make a party and make noise and disturb your neighbors so that they can’t sleep.

“My mother lives in Bnei Brak next to a synagogue, and it was loud. We asked them to make less noise and they did. They closed the door and we don’t hear the noise. Here they put it on a microphone and it’s loud. Why does it have to be on a microphone?”

At a restaurant next to the mosque, Jamal Shuweiki, a former journalist at east Jerusalem’s now defunct An-Nahar newspaper who works as a waiter, said: “I’m not religious, but I understand the strong feelings about this. Many people are talking about this, saying it’s against Islam and will start a religious war. The call to prayer is a symbol of Islam – you have the five pillars of Islam, and prayer is the second pillar. The call to prayer is not only part of the prayer, it’s the first part of the prayer.”

Asked why it had to be amplified, Shuweiki pointed to his ear. “You need it amplified so people can hear it. Once when there were no airplanes or cars you could hear it. Now you can’t hear it without a loudspeaker.”

He added that he is against blasting the call to prayer at high volume. “It should be sweet, not shouting. It shouldn’t be really loud. It should be half and half, somewhere in the middle.”

Amjad Rasas, 40, from the Old City of Jerusalem, who was treating his wife and daughters to a day off in Jaffa, said he would defy the law if it passed. “I’ll attach loudspeakers to my house,” he said. “I’ve been hearing the call to prayer from al-Aksa mosque all my life. How can they stop it? I hear the Shabbat siren on Fridays, and there’s no problem with it. Why should people be disturbed by the call to prayer? Whoever doesn’t want to hear it, can leave. The call to prayer was here before the Jews came.”

His wife, Urayib, asked: “Why are they doing this? It’s against love, peace and coexistence. People in the Old City are talking about this a lot, it’s making people crazy.”

David Maoz, a psychologist who lives close to the Jaffa Grand Mosque, said of the call to prayer: “There is something beautiful about it but it is too long. Usually it’s nice, but now I feel it can be disturbing when it is long – sometimes it goes on for a few minutes, and that can be very disturbing and can cause stress.”

He said the 5 a.m. call from the Grand Mosque is at lower volume than other times. “Maybe they can make the other calls at lower volume like the 5:00 call,” he said.

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