Loud Mosques: A Lesser-Known Middle East Controversy

Ramadan has renewed a longstanding debates in Morocco and Saudi Arabia

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Two articles published today have alerted us to a problem we weren't entirely aware of until now: loud mosques. Dubai-based Al Arabiya informs us that Saeed Lakhal, a researcher of Islamic movements, is calling on the government to ban microphones in mosques because they disturb nearby residents and because mosques run by Islamists broadcast "political ideologies" in addition to prayers. A preacher interviewed by Al Arabiya accuses Lakhal of attempting to rob Morocco of its Islamic identity and argues that the amplified "taraweeh" prayers the researcher complains about occur during Ramadan in the early evening when people are out and about anyway.

In another article on Monday, Saudi Arabia's Arab News reports that many mosques in the country are pumping up the volume on their loudspeakers during calls to prayer and disturbing residents in defiance of instructions from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The paper explains that mosques are often crowded together, spurring imams and muezzins (officials who leads the call to prayer) to compete with one another by way of ever more sophisticated sound systems (these tend to get replaced right before Ramadan). Arab News reaches out to imams to find out about the maximum number of loudspeakers a mosque needs to alert the public when it's prayer time (four) and the reasons why high-volume calls to prayer could benefit the public (when the imam has a nice voice or people have shown "negligence in their prayers").

While the complaints do appear to be cropping up in connection with Ramadan, the problem of loud mosques is hardly new. In February, for example, the Israeli settlement Ma'aleh Adumim lodged a complaint with the adjacent Palestinian village of al-Eizariya about the volume of its mosque loudspeakers. And around this time last year Bahrain ended a year-long debate by renewing a ban on using loudspeakers in mosques for anything other than the call to prayer. "Prayers are between a person and Allah, and there is no need to make one's prayers heard by people walking in the streets and in markets," a government official explained.  "There should be a manifestation of God's rituals during the holy month of Ramadan," a former politician who opposed the ban shot back.

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