Noise and Religion
A number of years ago, we were in Malaysia, and 5 times a day we heard the Muslim call to prayer. This call was usually amplified by sound systems near the various mosques. We were surprised, but since the calls are a common occurrence in countries with a Muslim population, we thought little of it.
Then one day at our hotel we heard a story of an Australian visitor who had disconnected a loud speaker outside his hotel window because the early morning call to prayer was waking him up. A few hours later he was arrested for blasphemy. Apparently you can’t disconnect these sound systems. (I am not sure what happened to him; I assume/hope he got off with a warning.)
But now, the Israeli government is planning to pass a bill which would limit “noise” between 11 pm and 7 am. Such a ban includes the first Muslim morning call to prayer. Supposedly the bill is intended to reduce noise pollution. But given the religious tensions in Israel, many see it as an attack on the Muslim population and their religious practices.
You can read more about the bill in a recent article here.
Here is another article about the bill, from last fall. In it, we are told that the original bill was sent back for alterations due to concern about its impact on Jewish practices:
“In a sign of the complexity of the issue, it drew surprise opposition on Tuesday from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox health minister, Yaakov Litzman, who temporarily blocked parliamentary debate and sent the issue back to the ministers because it might also affect the use of sirens to announce the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.”
And most likely, if the bill was applied equitably, this would be the case. It appears that the new version of the bill restricts the use of loudspeakers and sound systems, but not sirens?
Other countries have placed decibel level limits on the muezzin calls:
“A 2011 Knesset-commissioned report found that several European countries, as well as Cairo and some cities in Saudi Arabia, currently impose decibel-level limits on the muezzin’s call.”
But a decibel limit is not a complete ban. Unfortunately, this bill is just another piece of the incredibly complicated situation in Israel. Who knows what will happen if it is passed, which seems likely. Once again, we run up against the delicate balance of what is considered ‘noise’ by some, and ‘not noise’ by others. This time the conflict arises within an explosive social/cultural/political/religious context that seems to offer no acceptable compromise/solution.