Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mosque loudspeakers violating noise laws

Cartoon source: Cox and Forkum
I was not raised Muslim. I am not even religious. India is not an Islamic country. Mine is not a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. Yet I am called to prayer insistently, daily, and loudly.
Here are the timings for the mosque loudspeakers within earshot of my bedroom.

4:40 - 5:30 am
1 pm
4 - 4:10 pm
5:15 - 5:30 pm
7:15 - 7:30 pm
8:40 - 9:10 pm
There are at least four loudspeakers, but I can never count exactly because it's hard to separate individual voices in the cacophony. They all go off at slightly different times, and presumably each one calls azaan five times a day. Which means I am called to prayer around 20 times a day.

It's against the law to use loudspeakers outdoors in residential areas at any time, and in any area at all between 10:30 pm and 6:30 am. Religious use is not exempt from this law, except by specific court order, which is only possible for a limited number of days each year.
I have complained to the police literally dozens of times. I have the right to make an anonymous complaint, but they often refuse to take my complaint. They have often asked me to go to the police station and file a written complaint in person, although this is not required under the law. They are supposed to go to the spot where the violation occurs, and confiscate the loudspeakers and other offending equipment. Either the Mumbai Police has never actually dispatched a van, or, if they have, they haven't confiscated a thing, because the noise has never abated for a single day. Azaan lasts 2-5 minutes, so the cops need to station themselves by mosques and wait for the violation to occur.
There are cases of mosques in Oxford (England), Brooklyn (New York), and elsewhere being restricted from at least the pre-dawn azaan, if not more. One might argue that those are non-Muslim countries with assimilationist expectations of immigrants. But even Muslims in Islamic countries understand the need to curb noise pollution. Here's what an Indonesian blogger says about mosque loudspeakers -- she and most of the commenters agree that they are a nuisance, and that there's nothing Islamic about them. Here's a report of 150 people being arrested for abuse of mosque loudspeakers, in Pakistan.
I hope God, Allah, or whoever is up there, listening to the azaans in Mumbai, is increasingly pissed off and throws a bolt of lightning at every single loudspeaker in Mumbai, because the police sure as hell aren't doing a damn thing about it.
A call to prayer may be necessary for Muslims, but not all of us are interested. Besides, a loudspeaker is quite a different thing from a call to prayer. No scripture could possibly say that electronic amplification is necessary. If you're going to have technological innovations, then why not SMS azaans? Or Islamic alarm clocks? (Update, April 10, 2009: I just discovered that there is indeed such a thing.) Let the faithful subscribe and purchase those, and let the rest of us get some fucking sleep. If the imams won't respect the law or the human need for sleep and silence, the police ought to make them.
Update, July 23, 2010: This appears to be one of the most popular posts on my blog, and people frequently find it with keywords like mosque, loudspeaker, noise. Clearly, there's a problem, and it seems to be worldwide. I just noticed that a website called Pakistani Politics Journal has linked to this post. Welcome, PPJ readers! :)