Solving the Muezzin Problem Without Resorting to Legislation

Creative solutions to the problem of amplified calls to prayer can be found in dialogue between mosques and their Jewish neighbors.

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A mosque in Jaffa (archive photo).
A mosque in Jaffa (archive photo). Credit: Oren Ziv

The noise pollution created by mosques using loudspeakers to call the faithful to prayer can be solved by dialogue and creative thinking – rather than legislation – according to many in the Israeli Arab community.

A bill to ban the use of loudspeakers by mosques was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this week but appealed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, which fear it could boomerang against Jewish prayer rituals.

Even before the residents of Nahalal and Beit She'arim in northern Israel complained six years ago about the noise from the minaret in the neighboring Bedouin village Manshiya Zabda, the head of Emek Yizrael regional council had come up with an original proposal.

Eyal Bezer explained this week that the residents of the Bedouin village had explained to him that they increased the volume of the loudspeakers because the village was large and they wanted everyone to hear the call to prayer.

"I said to them, 'let's do the opposite,'" Bezer said. "I explained that if we spread wireless loudspeakers around the village, we'd be able to reduce the sound level by 50 percent."

The additional loudspeakers were funded by the council. According to Sheikh Ali Sauida, the local Imam, the plan worked "not badly." For technical reasons, the village has gone back to using the old loudspeakers, but the angles have been changed to prevent the sound from disturbing neighboring communities.

The Imam hopes that the new system, which works better within the village, will soon be upgraded. "The muezzin has existed for 1,500 years already, Sheikh Sauida said. "On the other hand, we live in a multicultural country and need to maintain good relations with our neighbors."

Bezer is now trying to persuade the heads of the neighboring Druze village to follow suit. His efforts haven't been successful until now, but he's optimistic. Among other things, he's counting on support (financial included) from the Non-Jewish Department in the Interior Ministry.

The state needs to adopt these idea, not enact legislation," he said.

Anyone who has been in Old Acre at prayer time knows that only one voice emanates from all the mosques. For several years now, all the mosques in the city have been connected to a single loudspeaker system, and the voice of the muezzin of the city's largest mosque, al-Jazaar, is the only one heard in the city.

The mosque's Imam, Samir Assi, says that the arrangement was intended to avoid all the mosques issuing calls at the same time, which both lengthens the process and is difficult on the ears.

The mosques have also agreed to lower the volume of the loudspeakers in the early morning. On Yom Kippur, as well, "we make sure to lower the volume out of a sense of consideration," Assi says.

Assi, who heads the committee of imams who are recognized as public servants, does not support the proposed law. "I have clarified to all the imams and to those responsible in the religious and interior ministries that if the law is passed I will resign from my position," he said.

"We cannot accept a law that does harm to one of the principles of Islam. There is a great difference between dialogue and consideration and a bill that damages the principles of Islam."

His approach is not unique. In the village of Mizra, near Netanya, the mosque is connected to a network of loudspeakers. "We worked with the Interior Ministry to angle the loudspeakers into the village and to lower the volume in the morning," said Fuad Awad, head of the local council.

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