NJ City Approves Public Broadcast of Muslim Call to Prayer — Should It?

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Muslims pray at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. (Illustrative Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Muslims pray at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. (Illustrative Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The City Council of Paterson, New Jersey has approved an ordinance that allows local mosques to publicly broadcast the Muslim call to prayer. The ordinance specifically allows for the Muslim call to prayer (the azan or adhan), church bells, and “other reasonable means of announcing religious meetings between the hours of 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. for duration not to exceed five minutes.”

The ordinance will be subjected to two public hearings before becoming law.

As a Muslim, I think the Muslim call to prayer can sound quite beautiful. I also live by a church and enjoy hearing the church bells everyday at noon. However, there are four key issues that stand out for me on a public Muslim call to prayer:

  1. As much as I’m comfortable with the Muslim call to prayer, do I want to hear this broadcast in public, five times a day, beginning at the crack of dawn and hearing a version that I have no control over? No.
  2. Do parents with young children, trying to keep them asleep for as long as possible, want to hear a crack-of-dawn broadcast? No.
  3. Does the increasing number of individuals who work remotely from their homes want to have their work day forcefully interrupted with amplified, scheduled intermissions echoing a call to prayer that can last a few minutes? No.
  4. In the age of trigger awareness and sensory issues, it’s tone deaf to not realize that some people will be triggered by the more aggressive call to prayer, while others dealing with sensory issues like discomfort from loud noises, will struggle to be in high stimulus environments with calls blasted over a loudspeaker.

It’s ordinances like the Muslim call to prayer of Paterson New Jersey that sound very inclusive on the surface level, but there is a layer cake of issues we’re dealing with, not least of all is the motivation for the ordinance.


Why is the Muslim call to prayer being pushed?

The Muslim call to prayer ordinance was introduced by Councilman Shahin Khalique. Khalique is up for re-election and this ordinance is one of his campaign promises. He’s also battling a public relations stain for a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) arrest in 2010.

What better way to show piety among the community’s 30,000 Muslim community (who attend the city’s 12 mosques) by forcing the entire community to adapt it’s behavior when Khalique couldn’t even control his own.

And of course, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has jumped on the bandwagon in support of the Muslim call to prayer ordinance of Paterson. If it wasn’t enough for CAIR to force faith in schools and politics, they now are edging to blanket an entire community in faith.


Michigan experimented with the Muslim call to prayer. They regretted it

A public broadcast for a Muslim call to prayer is already in effect in Hamtramck, Michigan with abysmal public reaction. Residents have complained that the call to prayer is too loud. A senior citizen community across from the Ideal Islamic Center in Michigan called the 6 a.m. broadcast simply “overbearing.”

The same reports have come in from residents who live by other mosques. None of this came without accusations from members of the local Muslim community that the complaints were rooted in Islamophobia or hatred against Muslims, or that critics were against Muslims.

It’s that language, “against Muslims” or “against the Muslims,” that I hear so often as a Muslim, and it is deeply frustrating. Citizens in Hamtramck repeatedly asked local mosques to “turn down the volume,” which begs the question: How does this call to prayer impact others? Is it simply too loud?

Instead the knee-jerk reaction is defense and victimization — that any complaint is perceived as a slight against “the Muslims.”  This “us” versus “them” response — including what’s coming from CAIR — is completely toxic.

It is counterproductive to positive community relations, and primes the worst elements in Muslim communities to push for more supremacist ordinances.


A community ordinance should benefit the community

The bottom line is that a community ordinance should benefit the community and not just one part of that community at the expense of another.

Those who cannot see the disadvantage a Muslim call to prayer has for the larger community simply aren’t thinking about all of us.

The right way to go about allowing for a call to prayer, if that is what’s really desired by a community, is to:

  1. Reach out to all residents and businesses within a target radius to determine their lifestyle and how intrusive a public broadcast would be.
  2. Set a volume cap on the public broadcast so that it is not a nuisance for other residents and businesses.
  3. Some calls to prayer can sound very aggressive. Agree on a more melodious pre-recorded call to prayer limited to 30 seconds or one minute. (The Paterson ordinance allows up to five minutes.)
  4. Consider limiting the public call to prayer just once a day, not at dawn and after business hours.
  5. Be flexible and understanding about concerns from residents. There is no compulsion in faith and that includes forcing the call to prayer into other people’s ears.

To my fellow Muslims

All of this politicizing the call to prayer takes away from the simplicity and sanctity of faith. Faith — which should be personal, evocative and stir the deepest depth of the soul, becomes another thing to do, maneuver and politick.

I have a 5 a.m. wake up alarm set everyday that plays a beautiful call to prayer. I don’t get up to pray, but there’s something very haunting and stunning to hear my favorite call to prayer in the small sliver of twilight, pristine quiet and stillness.

Muslims in America have a deep privilege to be the stewards of Islam in the 21st century. Let’s not strip the faith down to a political, confrontational battle.

Should the Muslim call to prayer be publicly broadcast?



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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