Can religious places not do without loudspeakers?

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By: RK Sinha

A debate is on in different parts of the country following judgement by Allahabad High Court last week which did not hold Azaan through loudspeakers integral part of Islam. The hard-liners are not happy with the verdict. Some of them may approach the apex court which is permitted to all under the laws. So, that is not the point under discussion. The main talking point is the new order. It is likely to remain in focus in certain circles till the time it is decided by the highest court.

The issue occupied the centrestage after a ban was imposed in one of the districts in Uttar Pradesh by the district authorities. The strict implementation of the lockdown was their main area of concern because of the Coronavirus which has spread far and wide. The loudspeakers were often coming in the way of some announcements to be made by them. The order was challenged in the Court which heard the case through video-conferencing. The judgement which was reserved was delivered last Friday.

The Court, to recall the order, has called Azaan an intrinsic part of Islam but not use of loudspeakers. The muezzin can call for prayers without taking support of loudspeakers. Thus, the ban has continued so far. Loudspeakers are also used in other religious places. Therefore, the larger question is, whether or not prayers should be offered without loudspeakers? The hard-liners everywhere will be opposed. So there will be a division. People are divided on the Azaan issue too.

Some of them hold the belief that use of loudspeaker cannot be an integral part of Islam because Islam is an old religion and this device was invented in twentieth century. The muezzin must be calling for Azaan himself or using some other device. Islam, according to some, is 1400-year- old religion. The loudspeakers were not invented then. The Court, therefore, is right in calling use of loudspeaker a recent development. Azaan is certainly a part of the religion. So muezzin can call from mosques without loudspeakers. As such, this decision should be welcomed by all. Muslim organizations should act and get this decision of the Court implemented. But they do not seem to have done anything in this regard.

It may be a coincidence that on May 9, a few days before Allahabad High Court order, Bollywood’s noted lyricist and screen-play writer Javed Akhtar had called Azaan through loudspeakers disturbing. It should be stopped. Javed Akhtar had written in his tweet in Hindi,” “भारत में लगभग 50 साल तक लाउडस्पीकर पर अजान देना हराम रहा, लेकिन अब जब हलाल हुई है तो खत्म ही नहीं हो रही। लेकिन इसे खत्म करना चाहिए। उम्मीद है कि दूसरों को हो रही परेशानी को समझते हुए लाउडस्पीकर पर अजान देना खुद ही बंद कर देना चाहिए. Hopefully, considering the trouble others are facing, a call through loudspeakers should be stopped by them on their own.

Those who are unaware may note that Azaan is still in vogue in many mosques in India without using loudspeakers. If one is not convinced, he should go to the historic Shia Jama Masjid in Delhi. Its Imam Maulana Mohammed Mohsin Taqvi proudly says that in his mosque, loudspeakers are not being used for Azaan. Are not the true Muslims coming to offer namaz there? Did Javed commit a sin by asking to stop use of loudspeakers?

Some time ago singer Sonu Nigam had also demanded a ban on this practice. At that time, all the Muslim organizations and “progressive elements” had gone against him. He had said and rightly so that many film folks return home after late night work in the morning and soon after that the Azaan on loudspeakers begin. They cannot sleep and are disturbed .It had angered West Bengal vice-chairman of the Minority Council, Syed Shah Qadri so much he had offered reward to  one who would shave off his hairs and garland Sonu Nigam with old shoes. The bounty offered was whopping Rs 10 lakh. But no one had even demanded legal action against that person.

Sonu Nigam was equally against some bad practices in other religions. He was also opposed to drinking and dancing during some festivals. Loud music is played during these festivals and younger dance to the tune. It is equally bad, he had said. It is clear which religion he is referring to. Will those who were after Sonu Nigam’s life still oppose him? Whatever they want to do should be left to them to decide. It is their choice. But the court did not find anything wrong in government’s decision. The Allahabad High Court has held that the right to sound pollution-free sleep is part of the fundamental rights of a person. No one has been given the right to take away that right from him.

Here is now the details of the case. A nationwide lockdown has been imposed to deal with the global pandemic, Corona. All kinds of events and gathering at one place has been also prohibited in Uttar Pradesh. Use of loudspeaker has been banned. Afzal Ansari of Bahujan Samaj Party who has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Ghazipur went to the Court against the order. He argued that in the month of Ramzan, ban on use of loudspeakers for Azaan by mosque violated the fundamental right of freedom of worship and religion. He sought intervention of the Allahabad High Court in the matter.

Due to the lockdown Azaan was not heard from loudspeakers during the month of Ramadan at any other place. It is not that there was no Azaan. Prayers cannot be offered without it. Therefore, Azaan must have happened and namaaz must have been offered with physical distance. But the loudspeaker was not in use. I do not understand why mosques, temples or Gurudwaras need loud speakers. Namaz can be offered or prayer held peacefully without creating noise. Actually this has happened because of some new thinking and interpretation. Some say Allah Hafiz in place of Khuda Hafiz. Some change has taken place because of fundamentalists. Fundamentalism cannot do good to any religion, be it Hinduism or any other. Hindu religion has also cast some liberal values due to some fundamentalists. There will be comparison wherever comparison has to be made. Reaction to an action comes naturally.

Finally, noise pollution has to be cut down like air pollution. No religion teaches any one to hurt others in any manner. You must follow your religion, but you should also see that the sentiment of someone who does not follow your religion is not hurt. The same logic has been given by the Allahabad High Court.  (The writer is a senior editor, columnist and a former MP)  

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