Monday, December 12, 2011

Muezzin Law-A noise complaint that was waiting to happen

Haaretz and other media are reporting on a law, proposed in the Israeli parliament, the Knesseth, to ban the Muslim call to public prayers ("Muezzin Law"). It is worthwhile studying this closely for the responses of members of the public arguing for and against banning a practice that was always designed to be intrusive, but that is not without its charms if one is willing to befriend it. - We recently spent some time in Istanbul, in a relatively poor, ancient neighborhood on the verge of gentrification but still dominated by the small neighborhood mosques that begin to blare their calls to prayer very early in the morning. The problem, I thought this summer, when I felt miserably awakened way before dawn and way before I was ready to get up, are the loudspeakers. They amplify the call to prayer to super-human strength. To be sure, as a tourist I was inclined to be charmed as well, similar to how I felt in Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico, where religious processions started early, carried on for a long time, and where accompanied by loudspeakers. The loudspeaker, a mid-twentieth century technology still dominates the air-space across the developing world, creating a particular sounds-scape of strong passions proclaimed by coarse and clumsy means. -- The charm of the muezzins of Istanbul was evident from their attention to one another. Broadcasting their really quite haunting intonations of the ever-same words, proclaiming the one-ness of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad in call-and-response fashion made one listen not just for the call from the nearest loudspeaker but for the others as well, namely, for the interplay, the weaving of a tapestry of transcendence over hills and valleys of a sleep-drunken city. -- None of this is to say that it is not worth regulating the decibels of the output and making sure pious tradition conforms with the overall sense of decorum. To be sure, in Jerusalem and Israel more broadly, there are overtones that will likely make it difficult to regulate anything stepping on the toes of any religious community and its traditions. -- It may be worth remembering that the medieval Muslim rulers forbade Christians, long the majority of Jerusalemites, the ringing of church bells. To this day, the Armenian St. James Cathedral has its deacon hammer on a large beam of wood when it is time to call the faithful to prayer. The regulation of religious noise has long been a complicated issue and it has always been fraught with the desire to dominate.

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