Ban on Mosque Morning Call to Prayer

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu appears determined to advance legislation prohibiting the use of loudspeakers in mosques for the dawn call to prayer in Israel and in East Jerusalem.

The bill was initially approved by the Cabinet on November 13 but was blocked by the Ultra-Orthodox party, over concerns that it would also prevent the use of sirens in certain cities that announce the beginning of Shabbat. The Ultra-Orthodox subsequently withdrew their objection after the bill was amended so as not to affect the Shabbat sirens. This amendment highlights the fact that this legislation is not about preventing noise “nuisance” in general, but rather about silencing the specific “nuisance” which is the audible presence of Muslims living under Israeli authority. Now that all the coalition parties are backing the proposed law, it is set to move to the Knesset in the coming days.

This bill is another dangerous move that contributes to the dangerous evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it a religious conflict. It also further contributes to the fear that Israel is seeking to marginalize Islam in Jerusalem and establish Israeli-Jewish hegemony in a city precious to and inhabited throughout its history by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Two of Israel’s only friends in the Muslim world – Turkey and Jordan – both expressed anger at the new law seeking to silence the call to prayer, characterizing it as a provocation and insult by Israel against Islam.

In defiance of the pending law, Palestinians citizens of Israel and residents of East Jerusalem are reportedly sounding the call to prayer from the roofs of their homes, and some Palestinian churches have reportedly been sounding the Muslim call to prayer in solidarity and ringing their bells to mark the call to prayer. Reportedly, in an apparent sign of Israeli authorities’ eagerness to begin cracking down on “noise” from mosques, an imam in the city of Lod was fined for making the call to prayer via the loudspeaker of a local mosque.

On many occasions, the volume of the Muezzin’s creates a serious nuisance that cannot be ignored. There are even occasions where it appears that the creation of such a nuisance is intentional. The residents of the Shuafat Refugee Camp have been surrounded by a wall and cut off from Jerusalem, and sense, not without justification, that the goal of that wall is, for all intents and purposes, “to get rid of them.” In this context, raising the volume of the call to prayer is a form of protest, as if to say: “you will not be rid of us so easily.”

While the problem is quite real, the proposed solution of a blanket prohibition of the call to morning prayer is an abuse of this problem for ulterior motives. The solution to high-volume calls to prayer lies not in their prohibition, but in the enforcement of existing anti-noise pollution legislation, which would be entirely adequate for such purposes.

It is impossible to over-estimate just how important it is to deal with this problem in a measured and responsible manner. The blanket prohibition is already widely perceived in the Palestinian sector as a draconian move of religious oppression, further marginalizing Islam in Al Quds. If this legislation is enacted or implemented, it could well spark violence, similar to the potential eruption of violence associated with other threats or perceived threats related to the Temple Mt./Haram al Sharif.