Minarets and Noise Pollution

It is midday in El Mahalla, about 100 kms. North of Cairo. The cries of the muezzin, calling the faithful to prayer reverberate in the streets. This town of 750,000 inhabitants boasts 365 mosques. "My house is surrounded by six mosques which have a total of 28 loudspeakers.  That stops me from sleeping and even from staying at home," complains Zakariya Muhammad Maher. He has taken the Ministry of Religious Endowments to court charging it with noise pollution. The said Ministry in fact forbade the use of loudspeakers outside mosques, and they can only be used to call people to prayers. However not everyone is in favour of the muzzling of the loudspeakers. Samia, housewife used to be able to follow the Friday sermons at home without having to go out. 

In Cairo, within a radius of 2 kms. one can count 40 loudspeakers, and again people have complained of noise. Though the Ministry is obliged to investigate and follow up the complaints, the mosques accused of noise pollution often go unpunished. In one instance, a mosque carrying 14 loudspeakers was asked to reduce the number to 4. 

Journalists with an Islamist bent tend to accuse such complaints of being politically motivated with the specific intention of secularising Egyptian society. Other religious shaikhs from the prestigious Islamic University of al Azhar also feel that the curtailing of loudspeakers has had the effect of cutting housewives off from Friday sermons. But this is a rather bad argument since housewives can follow such sermons on television and radio much more easily. The Government sees the control of the loudspeakers as a part of its greater struggle against the influence of Islamists, with the loudspeakers as the Islamists' instrument of propaganda.

[Source Al Ahram Weekly as quoted in Courrier International, 11-17 May, 2000.]