The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday a bill prohibiting the use of loudspeakers at mosques during Muslim prayer services.
Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for the legislation. "Israel is committed to freedom of religion, but it must also protect citizens from the noise. This is how it is in European cities and I support similar enforcement and legislation in Israel," the prime minster said.
The bill would have to pass several readings in the Knesset to become law.
Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, called the bill "another law in a series of racist and populist laws that only aim to create an atmosphere of hatred and incitement against the Arab public."
"There are noise laws and regulations that apply to mosques as well," he said. "It's clear that the law's sole goal is to single out mosques as problematic."
MK Hanin Zoabi said: "Those who suffer from the sound of the muezzin chose to settle next to a mosque, and they are welcome to leave if their suffering is so great."
MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) said the proposed legislation is anti-Muslim and urged Netanyahu to put a stop to it.
"It isn't noise that [the leaders of the initiative] seek to fight, but Muslims," he said. "Just like the anti-Semites in Europe who want to ban skull caps and circumcision seek to fight the Jews."
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) also said that the step is a "declaration of war on the Arab population." MK Jamal Zahalka of the same party said that "it isn't the sound of the muezzin that should be silenced, but the voice of racism in the government and the Knesset."
The bill, a new version of one originally intended to stop the broadcasting of nationalistic messages and incitement, now cites damage to quality of life due to noise as a reason for the prohibition.
The bill was initially presented six months ago by MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), but was reworded following critical legal opinions. Along with Yogev, MKs Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) and Miki Zohar and Nurit Koren (Likud) also signed the bill.
Same issue in Egypt
Arguments over mosques’ use of loudspeakers to broadcast the voice of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer have arisen over the past several years in several countries, first and foremost in Egypt, which is not only the largest Arab state but is considered a role model and source of guidance since Cairo is home to Al-Azhar, the most prominent Sunni institution in the Arab and Muslim world.
A number of years ago the issue made headlines when Egypt’s then-Religious Endowments Minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, said loudspeakers were an invention that has nothing to do with Islamic law, and that they even constituted an undermining of Islam, which spread and expanded over hundreds of years without loudspeakers or other technology. Senior religious leaders, however, said that conveying the call of the muezzin is an Islamic principle, making the use of loudspeakers permitted and even vital to broadcast the call and convey it to all believers.
In Egypt the authorities have been trying, without much success, to standardize the call of the muezzin at the country’s mosques, such that all mosques would issue the same call that would start and end at exactly the same time. One proposal was to have the muezzin’s call issued only from the largest mosques and not from all mosques, so as to reduce the noise and control the use of loudspeakers, but because of the sensitivity of the issue and the difficulty in enforcing such a rule, the proposal didn’t get very far. It didn’t help that a large proportion of the country’s mosques are not affiliated with the establishment, but with other streams of Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist movement.
Nevertheless, there are senior figures in the Islamic world who agree that external loudspeakers should only be used to call people to prayer, and not to broadcast the prayers themselves, particularly the Friday prayers that include the traditional sermon. There are those who argue that amplification systems during prayer should only be used within the mosques themselves.
The issue came up again over the past two years when the Egyptian government launched a campaign against the noise as well as the cacophony resulting from the many mosques calling people to prayer at intervals of several seconds. In this context there were demands to do without the loudspeakers during the call for the predawn and the late-night prayers, but the government has been unable to enforce even this limited demand.