Loudspeaker ban: The need for uniformity in implementation of laws

Interview with Ziya Us Salam, author and social commentator

ON May 4, the Allahabad High Court bench consisting of Justices Vivek Kumar Birla and Vikas Budhwar, in the case of Irfan versus State of U.P. And 3 Others, held that the use of loudspeaker from a mosque is not a fundamental right. The writ petition, seeking to quash the rejection order by the Bisauli sub divisional magistrate that denied the permission to use the loudspeaker at the time of azan, was dismissed by the high court. In recent months, ministers and political party leaders have been seen scurrying to ban loudspeakers installed in mosques, playing azan, particularly following the recent communal violence during the Hanuman Jayanti festivities in Delhi. Such a sudden spurt of the loudspeaker row is alleged to be another medium of fuelling hate politics.

Ziya Us Salam is an author, literary critic, journalist, and social commentator. He has been associated with The Hindu, a daily newspaper based in Chennai, for over two decades. Salam has published books that give a deep insight into the sociocultural issues and the workings of Islam. He is an impressive voice on the discrimination against Muslims in India.

Salam shared his views with The Leaflet on the growing attention that loudspeakers playing azan has received.

Q: Can you enlighten us on the use of loudspeakers as a call of prayer in Islam?

A: For the past 50-60 years, loudspeakers have been used in India to call the faithful for prayers. In the olden times, most houses did not have a watch, internet, or mobile phone. So how did one call people for prayers? People had no means of knowing if it was 5.30 in the morning, and hence, time for fajr or morning prayers.

The law should be implemented uniformly for everybody and every religion. It should not focus on any one religion or any one region.

Also read: Supreme Court dismisses BJP’s plea seeking lifting of ban on use of mics and loudspeakers in residential areas and near educational institutions

Q: How about the use of loudspeakers in the present day? The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 provide certain guidelines for the use of loudspeakers. What would your opinion be on the Rules in the context of azan?

A: The law should be implemented uniformly for everybody and every religion. It should not focus on any one religion or any one region. Whether noise comes from a mosque or a temple, it adds to the noise pollution. When I say that loudspeakers should either be taken out from mosques or their volume should be reduced, I say the same thing for temples. Particularly, when people have jagratas (a Hindu ritual involving an all-night vigil) in residential colonies, the loudspeakers used should be banned. When someone wants to pray with faith, he or she is welcome to do it at home.

Q: What are your thoughts on the trend of ministers and political party leaders rushing to ban loudspeakers installed in mosques?

A: The ban demanded by political party members has nothing to do with the environment. For them, anything that is related to Muslims is objectionable. These are the same people who never raise their voices against a jagrata or a jagran at nightHowever, they are concerned with azan that is played for two and a half minutes, and all the five azans take about twelve or thirteen minutes a day or a maximum of fifteen minutes. Thus, they have a problem with azan that goes on for 15 minutes, but they have no issues when a temple continues its prayers for hours on a loudspeaker. This shows that they have different rules for different communities. I am in favour of the loudspeaker ban, but it should be in favour of all communities.

Also read: Allahabad HC: Azan through loudspeakers or other sound-amplifying devices isn’t an integral part of Islam 

Q: In one of your articles, you mention the Allahabad High Court’s order dated February 13, 2018 in Moti Lal Yadav versus State of UP. What are your views on the directions by this and other courts on the use and misuse of loudspeakers?

A: People have been misusing loudspeakers despite the Supreme Court’s directions a few years ago. This should have been done earlier by the government without bringing politics into it. I am glad that the Uttar Pradesh government has finally decided to implement it without favours – they have not only taken out loudspeakers from hundreds of mosques, but they have also taken out loudspeakers from thousands of temples. This shows that the intention is not partisan and the government is being fair. However, it is not the same as what people are demanding in Karnataka or Gujarat or Maharashtra. Their focus is entirely on mosques, and not on other sources.

People have been misusing loudspeakers despite the Supreme Court’s directions a few years ago. This should have been done earlier by the government without bringing politics into it.

Q: In the same article, you write about the “surprising response” of the clerics concerning a lack of their opposition, and the changes seen in the use of loudspeakers in other countries. What, according to you, is the best way forward?

A: The good thing is that the clerics, particularly, the Muslim clerics did not fall for the opposition to the loudspeaker ban. In the past, you can see that whenever the government has attempted to do anything regarding Muslims, people have tended to fall for loud protests and they have played into the hands of the clerics. This time people refused to do so. The clerics also understood the ground reality that the masses will not rally behind them if they called against the decision of the Uttar Pradesh government to ban loudspeakers. Since many Muslims, and particularly the imams, were accepting the judgment, I saw a refreshing acceptance of the same decision from the Hindu purohits. Thus, if religious leaders are ready to fall in line with an administrative decision or a decision by a state government, it has to be welcomed.

The law should be implemented uniformly for everybody and every religion. It should not focus on any one religion or any one region.

Also read: Silence all your loudspeakers

As far as other countries are concerned, I have been to Saudi Arabia for Umrah (pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca) both in 2018 and 2019, and I was surprised to see mosques in residential colonies using loudspeakers for their prayers. If different mosques keep playing azan on loudspeakers, it would be disrespectful for people to engage in any other activities at home. Now the government has changed the rules and the prayers are no longer broadcast in the neighbourhood. Thus, the change is seen.