Azaan is increasing the communal gap
by Sanjeev Nayyar on 20 Jul 2016 5 Comments

During the holy month of Ramzan, a call to the devout awoke me at about 4.45 am every day. For the rest of the year the call rouses me between 5.15 to 5.45 am. For 365 days of the year azaan is done five times a day. Calls come from four mosques, sometimes simultaneously, or one after another.


Two of the four mosques are nearly a kilometre away; one is very close. Either way, the sound is very loud. The mosque closest to our building has installed new high powered loudspeakers which brings the call to the devout right into our homes. Some members of the residential society are forthcoming on how disturbing and irritating this is; others prefer to skirt the issue. Friends in the neighbourhood crib, the elderly, women and students being the most agitated.


Speaking to the police was an option; some wanted the lane association to speak with the local MLA. But others pointed out that the police, in the absence of political support, would avoid action.


Our area alone is not affected. During a meeting at Starbucks off Linking Road in Mumbai, a business conversation was disturbed by azaan. When we looked out, we saw a loudspeaker placed atop a hut in the adjoining plot. Ditto in huts close to Lilavati Hospital in Bandra Reclamation. 


To understand the mindsets, the writer spoke to three Muslim taxi-drivers, saying loudspeakers disturb the neighbourhood and are giving the community a bad name.


The first lives in a Muslim area. He was critical of how early morning azaan spoilt his sleep and added that the devout could set an alarm on their mobile phones. The second wore a skull cap and short white pajama. He was adamant that loudspeakers would be used, come what may. The third, who lives in a Hindu area like ours, said he was helpless in front of the maulvi who said that the louder the call means shaitan bhag jayege (the devil will run). Appreciating his honesty, one pointed out that residents’ anger could have a negative impact. He said fewer Hindus used his taxi nowadays.


To learn how educated apolitical Hindus feel, a quick whatsapp survey followed. The questions were, how do you feel about being disturbed by azaan? Has it changed your attitude towards the Muslim community?


One lady said, “I am against religious activity with loudspeakers. If one is truly devout there is no need to shout. I have nothing against the Muslim community. What about Ganeshotsav mandals? In Vridhachalam we heard temple bells and azaan.” When told Ganesh festival is celebrated for ten days in a year while azaan is 5 times a day all year round with loudspeakers, unlike temple bells, she said, ‘yes you have a point’.


A 50-year-old liberal said, “I have no problems with any person following any religion. I have great objection when it is thrust on others, in the form of loudspeakers or exploitative conversions. I have many Muslims friends who think like me”. A 40-something businessperson whose family consists of aging parents and young kids, said, “I don’t have words to express anger, it is getting louder and louder. It has changed my attitude towards Muslims and made me vote BJP.” A publisher is very unhappy about being disturbed by azaan and also complained about aarti on the road during Ganeshotsav.


It is not about Hindus alone. Activist Saeed Khan who has closely observed the increasing levels of noise from loudspeakers atop mosque minarets says, “the Saboo Siddique Hospital in Dongri is a classic example. Situated between Masjid-e-Iranian or Mughal Mosque (a Shia place of worship) and a Sunni Masjid, Saboo Siddique Hospital and a nearby municipal school (both fall in the silence zone) have to endure the long, high-decibel azaans every day.”


A resident of Delhi’s walled city in the 1950’s fondly recalls how musical azaan sounded in the pre-loudspeaker era.


On a personal note, the author could never have managed a 15-hour study schedule for Chartered Accountancy exams if four mosques had existed then. A former top cop told the author that it was former Maharashtra Chief Minister S B Chavan who, during 1977-78 elections, gave blanket permission to mosques for use of loudspeakers.


It can be argued that azaan lasts only a few minutes. But at times competitive religiosity between sects ensures azaan is longer and louder than another. Thanks to the courts, media and NGOs like Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation, noise levels during Ganeshotsav and Diwali have come down significantly. The police have done a good job by controlling loudspeaker volumes of the Ganesh mandal outside our building. 

The question arises, since the devout will come anyway, why disturb the neighbourhood? And can the disturbance caused during a short duration festival (say firecrackers during Diwali) justify the use of loudspeakers five times a day for 365 days of the year? During my travels across the nation, I have heard azaan in Mumbai, Delhi, Almora, Dharchula, Kanchipuram, Ujjain, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Imphal, Khajuraho, Narainpur in Bastar etc. Many temples in Tamil Nadu have loudspeakers too.


Azaan made sense when people lived in a sparsely populated desert lands in an era when there were no watches, but today?


The writer also discovered the growing number of mosques close to important non-Muslim places of worship. A few examples -


Bodh Gaya Temple, Bihar 2012


Whilst meditating with Buddhists from Thailand and Myanmar, we were disturbed by azaan. The Buddhists later asked why the Government did not stop this as Bodh Gaya was the most sacred place for Buddhists worldwide. On inquiry it was learnt that it was a 300-year-old mosque. Later, at a shop selling brass items, one posed the same question to its Muslim owner. He said the community had tried to convince the maulvis but they refused to remove the loudspeakers. But it may be time to pose the question publicly: since Buddha is the Buddha’s place of Enlightenment, shouldn’t Muslims be sensitive to Buddhist feelings?


Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu 2016


Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is an old and revered institution headquartered in Kanchipuram. It is believed that “Sankara Bhagavapadacharya retired to Kanchi, the Southern Mokshapuri, and shook off his mortal coils in that sacred city.” The Peetham is very important to Hindus.


During my visit I saw a large mosque with at least ten loudspeakers next to the peetham. Could not those who built the mosque have found land in any other part of a big town like Kanchipuram?


Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian Rajasthan 2013


The Sachiya Mata temple near Jodhpur was originally built in the 8th century; the current complex dates to the 12th century. The temple is dedicated to Sachi Mata, also known as Indrani, was the consort of the rain-god Indra. The temple attracts Hindu and Jain devotees.


Minutes away from the entrance is a mosque. When one asked a temple priest if they protested when mosque was being constructed and if they were disturbed by azaan, he snapped, “Ayodhya mein kuch nahin kar paye tho idhar kya kareege”.


Bagnath Temple, Bageshwar


Similarly, a new mosque stands opposite the Bagnath Temple in Bageshwar, Kumaon. The temple was built in 1602.


Naina Devi Temple, Kumaon, Uttarakhand 2012


The temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peeths, and finds mention in the Kushan period. Built in the 15th century AD, the murti was installed in 1842. Devotees from far and wide come to offer prayers to Ma Naina Devi.


Very close to the temple is a Jama Masjid that dwarfs the temple, while numerous loudspeakers disturb peace all around. Surely the masjid could be raised at another site in Nainital.



Coming to the legal aspects, an 18 July 2005 Supreme Court order states, ‘The noise level at the boundary of the public place where loudspeaker or public address system or any other noise source is being used shall not exceed 10 dB(A) above the ambient noise standards for the area or 75 dB(A) whichever is lower. No one shall beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any instrument or use any sound amplifier at night (between 10 p.m. and 6.a.m.) except in public emergencies.” (


This means no loudspeakers should be used or sound emitting firecrackers be burst between 10 pm and 6 am. However, The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 empowers State Governments to permit use of loudspeaker or public address system between 10 pm and 12 pm mid-night on or during the cultural or religious occasions for a limited period not exceeding 15 days. The same rules state, “permissible decibel levels (50dB during day and 40 dB at night for silence zone and 55 dB during day and 45dB at night for residential area).”


Yet there does not seem to be any concerted effort to seek compliance with the order.


A 2014 Bombay High Court order states, “The court has directed the police to remove loudspeakers from mosques in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai if the required permission from the authorities has not been obtained. Court ruled that irrespective of religion, caste or community, unauthorized loudspeakers must be confiscated. Any illegal installation of loudspeaker, be it for Ganeshotsav, Navratri or in mosques, must be immediately stopped.”



The law is explicit and it is time that it is respected by all.


The author is an avid traveller and independent columnist; his Twitter handle is @sanjeev1927

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