The Allahabad High Court granted relief to Indian Muslims on 15 May, declaring that while the azaan (Islamic call to prayer) is an essential and integral part of Islam, its recitation through loudspeakers or other sound amplifying devices cannot be said to be an integral part of the religion. The bench ruled, responding to a bunch of pleas, that the azaan can be recited by the muezzin from the minarets of mosques without using any amplifying devices, and the administration is directed not to cause hindrance to the same on the pretext of the guidelines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of my lawyer friends who practices in the Allahabad High Court, also shared this news with me and sought my opinion. I said: “The ruling is spot on, and as a citizen and Muslim both, I welcome this judgment.” Yet, he wanted to know more about azaan and discuss the issue in detail. I explained to him that the azaan is important to Muslims as an Islamic ritual and kernel of the teachings of Islam. It is considered to be an act of worship in itself, which is full of fortune and blessings. Azaan brings God’s mercy in abundance to the geographical area in which it is recited.
A Little History of the ‘Azaan’
Besides, azaan is also the formal call to prayer in Islam. Azaan is reverentially called out by a muezzin from the mosque five times a day, reminding and summoning Muslims for obligatory prayers. It is to let Muslims living in that vicinity know that the time for prayer has come, and they should be duly prepared. Therefore, azaan works as a ‘human alarm clock’ of sorts.
Having said this, we would hardly find anybody objecting to the recitation of the azaan for the aforesaid purpose. Yet often, people debate over the usage of loudspeakers, microphones, and any kind of sound-amplifying devices for this purpose. In this context, we have to understand a few things first.
First, the ‘azaan’ is a historical Islamic ritual and has been practiced for centuries.
However, the microphone is a new concept which came into existence much later –circa nineteenth century. With this, the de facto use of loudspeakers was assumed as mandatory for the recitation of azaan, which should not be the case.
Second, Islam abhors ‘pollution’ in any form. The Quran categorically refutes noise pollution in its thirty-first chapter, Surah Luqman. The wise man Luqman emphasises upon the use of a ‘low voice’ while counselling his son. Here, I quote the verse, “Be moderate in your tread and lower your voice.” To make him understand, he further compares ‘speaking loudly’ with the ‘braying of asses’. Possibly, the reason for denouncing the donkey’s bray was its high decibel level, which irk and annoy many.
Should Muslim-Dominated Neighbourhoods Have ‘Azaan’ Recited Through Loudspeaker?
Third, Prophet Mohammed often advised people to refrain from loud clamouring. It is also stated that one would have to lower their voice when meeting the Prophet. Ibn Khaldun, the famous Islamic scholar, social scientist and historian has underlined the importance of a ‘pollution-free’ society and peaceful atmosphere, while describing the details of human civilisation in his masterpiece Muqaddimah (an introduction to history). Apparently, Islam does not permit any kind of cacophony or hubbub in the society.
Moving forward, I also referred to my recent discussion in this regard with Muslim scholar and Professor Dr Syed Alim Ashraf (Dean and HOD, Arabic, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad) to my lawyer friend. Professor Alim Ashraf proposes a simple solution to get ahead of this issue.
According to him, demographically, we have two types of localities or vicinities in our society.
The first vicinity, where the Muslim population is high, there, loudspeakers may be used for the recitation of the azaan (assuming that there is no court order prohibiting the use of loudspeakers) if local residents so want and allow. But if that particular area has more than one mosque, and azaan through a loudspeaker from any one of these mosques is audible to all inhabitants of that vicinity – in that case, it would be better to recite azaan with loudspeaker from that one mosque alone. Let other muezzins from the remaining mosques of that area recite azasn without loudspeakers. The reason is that the recitation of the azaan in quick succession, often results in overlapping or mixing of words, confusing the person who tries to follow the sunnat (the way of the Prophet) to replying the azaan.
Being Accommodating Of Others’ Sentiments
Secondly, in mixed neighbourhoods or sectors comprising of Muslims and other communities, and areas where hospitals or schools are located close to the mosques – for such places we should voluntarily dispense with the usage of loudspeakers for reciting the azaan.
In this regard, Professor Alim Ashraf also highlighted the rights of the neighbours mentioned in Islam. It is expected from Muslims to behave well with their neighbours. Prophet said, “If a person believes in Allah, s/he should not harm neighbours.” Also, a man asked the Prophet, "O Messenger of Allah! There is a woman who prays, gives charity and fasts a great deal, but she harms her neighbours with her speech”. He said: “She will go to hell.”
Keeping this in mind also, we should not use loudspeakers for azaan in mixed population areas considering and respecting our non-Muslim brethren and other unconcerned people. We can take a cue from Western countries, where azaan is generally called inside the mosque so as not to disturb the public or the neighbours. I am sure this initiative would be conducive to the enhancing/ understanding between communities.
Thus, the judgment of Allahabad High Court on azaan, surely gives us an opportunity to demonstrate and accentuate the beauty of our religion again.
(The author is director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)