Muzzling the muezzin

Drafting a new law especially for “religious institutions” – a thinly veiled code word for mosques – is counterproductive.

THE KABABIR MOSQUE in Haifa. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Crackling sound systems, off-key and overly zealous muezzins, and interminably long calls for prayers can, for some, be an annoying feature of living in the Middle East. But while fighting noise pollution is important as part of a larger effort to protect our environment, it should be tempered by sensitivity to religious freedom and the need for equality before the law.
Unfortunately, a proposal approved on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to ban “religious institutions” from using outdoor loudspeakers to call the faithful to prayer is misguided, and liable to become a needless source of tension between Muslims and Jews.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified his support for the legislation by arguing that “citizens of all religions” have complained to him countless times about noise from the muezzin.
“Israel is committed to freedom for all religions, but is also responsible for protecting its citizens from noise,” Netanyahu said. “That’s how it is in cities in Europe. I support similar legislation and enforcement in Israel.”
When abused with high volume, the call of the muezzin can be a form of noise pollution. But the way to deal with it is not through legislation which targets Israel’s Muslim population and Muslim residents of the West Bank, but by enforcing existing laws that protect the citizens of Israel from all forms of noise pollution.
Mosques should be held accountable, not because they are mosques or because they are “religious institutions” but because they are polluting the environment with unlawfully high decibel levels at hours of the day and night when Israeli citizens have the right to rest. This could even be seen as a religious obligation to respect the peace and quiet of others.
From the point of view of the State of Israel, enforcement of the law should be done in a fair and equal way regardless of the religious affiliation of the transgressor. Late-night party-goers who disturb neighbors should be treated the same way as the muezzin. The issue is the noise being made, not who is making the noise or what the intentions – or purported intentions – of those making the noise might be.
It might be true that the muezzin sees the raising of the decibels of his call to prayer – the adhan – as a religious duty to publicize his faith.
Joint Arab List MK Haneen Zoabi seems to view the high decibel level of the muezzin as a strategy for coercing Jews to move elsewhere.
“Those who suffer from the sounds of the muezzins are specifically those who chose to settle near the mosques, and… they are invited to leave if they are suffering so much,” she said. “This isn’t Europe here. Anyone who feels like he is in Europe, and thinks this is Europe, should consider going there.”
But none of this should concern the lawmaker, who should be concerned with achieving equality before the law.
Drafting a new law especially for “religious institutions” – a thinly veiled code word for mosques – is counterproductive, as it will increase tension in an already tense relationship between Jews and Muslims in Israel.
The government should rather take steps to make sure existing laws against noise are properly enforced. MK Ze’ev Elkin should work together with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to ensure that mosques adhere to the laws governing noise. No special dispensations should be given to “religious institutions,” nor should these institutions be singled out.
Netanyahu, Elkin and the other ministers who support the bill might gain points among their right-wing constituents in the Likud for passing an anti-muezzin law. But the price they will pay in unnecessary tension with the Muslim population and a breakdown of the principle of equality before the law is too high.