How Azaan is increasing the Hindu Muslim Divide

Mosque behind Bodhgaya Mandir and next to Kanchipuram Math

During  the holy month of Ramzan, a call to the devout woke me at about 4.45  am every day. For the rest of the year the call rouses me between  5.15 to 5.45 am. For 365 days of the year azaan is  done five times a day. Calls come from four mosques, sometimes  simultaneously, or one after another.

Two  of the four mosques are nearly a kilometre away; one is very close.  Either way, the sound is very loud. The mosque closest to our  building has installed new high powered loudspeakers which brings the  call to the devout right into our homes. Some members of the  residential society are forthcoming on how disturbing and irritating  this is; others prefer to skirt the issue. Friends in the  neighbourhood crib, the elderly, women and students being the most  agitated.

Speaking  to the police was an option; some wanted the lane association to  speak with the local MLA. But others pointed out that the police, in  the absence of political support, would avoid action.

Our  area alone is not affected. During a meeting at Starbucks off Linking  Road in Mumbai, a business conversation was disturbed by azaan.  When we looked out, we saw a loudspeaker placed atop a hut in the  adjoining plot. Ditto in huts close to Lilavati Hospital in Bandra  Reclamation. 

To  understand the mindsets, the writer spoke to three Muslim  taxi-drivers, saying loudspeakers disturb the neighbourhood and are  giving the community a bad name.

The  first lives in a Muslim area. He was critical of how early  morning azaan spoilt  his sleep and added that the devout could set an alarm on their  mobile phones. The second wore a skull cap and short white pajama. He  was adamant that loudspeakers would be used, come what may. The  third, who lives in a Hindu area like ours, said he was helpless in  front of the maulvi who  said that the louder the call means shaitan  bhag jayege(the  devil will run). Appreciating his honesty, one pointed out that  residents’ anger could have a negative impact. He said fewer Hindus  used his taxi nowadays.

To  learn how educated apolitical Hindus feel, a quick whatsapp survey  followed. The questions were, how do you feel about being disturbed  by azaan?  Has it changed your attitude towards the Muslim community?

One  lady said, “I am against religious activity with loudspeakers. If  one is truly devout there is no need to shout. I have nothing against  the Muslim community. What about Ganeshotsav mandals? In Vridhachalam  we heard temple bells and azaan.”  When told Ganesh festival is celebrated for ten days in a year  while azaanis  5 times a day all year round with loudspeakers, unlike temple bells,  she said, ‘yes you have a point’.

A  50-year-old liberal said, “I have no problems with any person  following any religion. I have great objection when it is thrust on  others, in the form of loudspeakers or exploitative conversions. I  have many Muslims friends who think like me”. A 40-something  businessperson whose family consists of aging parents and young kids,  said, “I don’t have words to express anger, it is getting louder  and louder. It has changed my attitude towards Muslims and made me  vote BJP.” A publisher is very unhappy about being disturbed  by azaan and  also complained about aarti on  the road during Ganeshotsav.

It  is not about Hindus alone. Activist Saeed Khan who has closely  observed the increasing levels of noise from loudspeakers atop mosque  minarets says, “the Saboo Siddique Hospital in Dongri is a classic  example. Situated between Masjid-e-Iranian or Mughal Mosque (a Shia  place of worship) and a Sunni Masjid, Saboo Siddique Hospital and a  nearby municipal school (both fall in the silence zone) have to  endure the long, high-decibel azaans every  day.”

A  resident of Delhi’s walled city in the 1950’s fondly recalls how  musical azaan sounded  in the pre-loudspeaker era.

On  a personal note, the author could never have managed a 15-hour study  schedule for Chartered Accountancy exams if four mosques had existed  then. A former top cop told the author that it was former Maharashtra  Chief Minister S B Chavan who, during 1977-78 elections, gave blanket  permission to mosques for use of loudspeakers.

It  can be argued that azaan lasts  only a few minutes. But at times competitive religiosity between  sects ensures azaan is  longer and louder than another. Thanks to the courts, media and NGOs  like Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation, noise levels during  Ganeshotsav and Diwali have come down significantly. The police have  done a good job by controlling loudspeaker volumes of the Ganesh  mandal outside our building. 

The  question arises, since the devout will come anyway, why disturb the  neighbourhood? And can the disturbance caused during a short duration  festival (say firecrackers during Diwali) justify the use of  loudspeakers five times a day for 365 days of the year? During my  travels across the nation, I heard azaan in  Mumbai, Delhi, Almora, Dharchula, Kanchipuram, Ujjain, Ahmedabad,  Jaipur, Imphal, Khajuraho, Narainpur in Bastar etc. Many temples in  Tamil Nadu have loudspeakers too.

Azaan made  sense when people lived in a sparsely populated desert lands in an  era when there were no watches, but today?

The  writer also discovered the growing number of mosques close to  important non-Muslim places of worship. A few examples -

1. Bodh  Gaya Temple, Bihar 2012

Whilst  meditating with Buddhists from Thailand and Myanmar, we were  disturbed by azaan.  The Buddhists later asked why the Government did not stop this as  Bodh Gaya was the most sacred place for Buddhists worldwide. On  inquiry it was learnt that it was a 300-year-old mosque. Later, at a  shop selling brass items, one posed the same question to its Muslim  owner. He said the community had tried to convince the maulvis but  they refused to remove the loudspeakers. But it may be time to pose  the question publicly: since Bodhgaya is the Buddha’s place of  Enlightenment, shouldn’t Muslims be sensitive to Buddhist feelings?

2.  Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu 2016

Sri  Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is an old and revered institution  headquartered in Kanchipuram. It is believed that “Sankara  Bhagavapadacharya retired to Kanchi, the Southern Mokshapuri, and  shook off his mortal coils in that sacred city.” The Peetham is  very important to Hindus.

During  my visit I saw a large mosque with at least ten loudspeakers next to  the peetham. Could not those who built the mosque have found land in  any other part of a big town like Kanchipuram?

3.  Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian Rajasthan 2013

The  Sachiya Mata temple near Jodhpur was originally built in the 8th  century; the current complex dates to the 12th century. The temple is  dedicated to Sachi Mata, also known as Indrani, was the consort of  the rain-god Indra. The temple attracts Hindu and Jain devotees.

Minutes  away from the entrance is a mosque. When one asked a temple priest if  they protested when mosque was being constructed and if they were  disturbed by azaan,  he snapped, “Ayodhya  mein kuch nahin kar paye tho idhar kya kareege”.

4.  Bagnath Temple, Bageshwar 2012

Similarly,  a new mosque stands opposite the Bagnath Temple in  Bageshwar, Kumaon. The temple was built in 1602.

5.  Naina Devi Temple, Kumaon, Uttarakhand 2012

The  temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peeths, and finds mention in the  Kushan period. Built in the 15th century AD, the murti was  installed in 1842. Devotees from far and wide come to offer prayers  to Ma Naina Devi.

Very  close to the temple is a Jama Masjid that dwarfs the temple, while  numerous loudspeakers disturb peace all around. Surely the masjid  could be raised at another site in Nainital.

Coming  to the legal aspects, an 18 July 2005 Supreme Court order states,  ‘The noise level at the boundary of the public place where  loudspeaker or public address system or any other noise source is  being used shall not exceed 10 dB(A) above the ambient noise  standards for the area or 75 dB(A) whichever is lower. No one shall  beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any  instrument or use any sound amplifier at night (between 10 p.m. and  6.a.m.) except in public emergencies.” To read SC order Click here

This  means no loudspeakers should be used or sound emitting firecrackers  be burst between 10 pm and 6 am. However, The Noise Pollution  (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 empowers State Governments to  permit use of loudspeaker or public address system between 10 pm and  12 pm mid-night on or during the cultural or religious occasions for  a limited period not exceeding 15 days. The same rules state,  “permissible decibel levels (50dB during day and 40 dB at night for  silence zone and 55 dB during day and 45dB at night for residential  area).”

Yet  there does not seem to be any concerted effort to seek compliance  with the order.

A  2014 Bombay High Court order states, “The court has directed the  police to remove loudspeakers from mosques in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai  if the required permission from the authorities has not been  obtained. Court ruled that irrespective of religion, caste or  community, unauthorized loudspeakers must be confiscated. Any illegal  installation of loudspeaker, be it for Ganeshotsav, Navratri or in  mosques, must be immediately stopped.” To read more Click here

The  law is explicit and it is time that it is respected by all.

The  author is an avid traveller and independent columnist

First  published Click here to view

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