Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Divine noise pollution

A friend who works for a multinational company told me how a Canadian colleague of hers, disturbed by the early morning noise, complained to the local mosque about it.
‘Oow, you shouldn’t have done that!’ she had told him, ‘They will think you are against our religion and culture, even that you are making war on Allah. It is a very dangerous thing to do to complain to a mosque,’
‘I like the neighbourhood and I don’t want to move. But I also don’t want to wake up in the morning with a loud noise giving me a dreadful headache,’
‘I’m sorry,’ she had said, ‘You’ll just have to try to find a slightly less noisy neighbourhood,’ which he managed to do.
We are now coming near to what should be the holy month of Ramadhan. Dates have already been in the shops for a few weeks now. As usual it is going to be a very noisy month – not much time for quiet reflection and peaceful prayer.
In the evening, the proceedings of Traveeh prayers are broadcast to everybody so that there is no chance of anyone failing to take part.
At two o’clock in the morning we are going to be extolled to get our cooking pots ready with multi-directional broadcasts of ‘Sahoor! Sahoor!’ followed at four o’clock with some Tilawat or a loop of Islamic exhortations as the local mosques compete to see how their different amplifiers match up against each other.
By the time it comes to Asalaatu khairun min an naum[1] there is no chance of anyone being asleep. There must surely be little inclination towards concentrated and reflective prayer, with everyone’s head being so full of pain and stress. All they long for is to get subuh[2] over with as quickly as possible and curl up as soon as the pressure is off – or at least until the street hawkers start their rounds at six o’clock.
When Eid-ul-Fitr comes there will be no peace at all for about 48 hours. Everywhere there will be the continuous noise of firecrackers, takbiraat, and drums. It will be utter pandemonium.
Sound systems and public address loudspeakers are hardly a part of Indonesian cultural heritage which needs to be preserved. The sound of Quranic recitation should be a delightful, and voluntary, thing. To distort it over a loudspeaker and make it something harsh and unwelcome is not doing a service to Islam. It surely cannot be an Islamic thing to disturb the peace of elderly and sick people, babies and animals. If Islam is truly a peaceful religion then it must be peaceful in practice and not a competition in noise-making.
I suggest that it is not waging war on Allah to ask those who claim to act in His name to do so peacefully and quietly. It is not attacking our culture to demand the right to be allowed to say our Tahajjud prayers in the middle of the night or before Fajr without being disturbed. It is not against religion to allow our babies and elderly relatives to sleep in peace.
Expatriates, who are used to the idea of complaining when something is wrong, may find it strange that they have to move house because no one will listen to their complaints. There are many Indonesians who are also disturbed by the noise from mosques and they have the right to complain without being afraid of being criticised by their community.
There should be a mechanism to resolve these issues. The Department of Religious Affairs has an Inspectorate (I passed by their headquarters in Fatmawati the other day). Perhaps the noise from religious buildings could be one of the things that it inspects and controls.
It is not impossible for Islam to be performed quietly – after all, for at least thirteen hundred years there were no electronic sound amplification systems. Hadhrat Bilal relied on his unaided voice and so did everyone else until the middle of the last century.
One of the local kampungs here is occupied mainly by young academic families with small children. They reached agreement with their local mosques so that they only broadcast the Adhan at a volume which can be heard, but does not disturb anyone. There are no other announcements or recitations broadcast through the roof speakers. There are, of course, recitations and announcements but they can only be heard by those inside the mosques who want to benefit from them.
It could work if this practice became universal. It might even make Islam in Indonesia more attractive to those from other countries and religions who now experience it as only noisy and disturbing.
Rafiq Mahmood
Bogor, West Java