J&K: Limit use of loudspeakers in mosques
by Jaibans Singh on 03 Jun 2021 3 Comments

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs has, in a landmark directive, told mosques to limit the use of loudspeakers for religious discourses. A circular has been issued by Abdul Latif Al Sheikh, Minister of Islamic Affairs, allowing the use of loudspeakers only for Azan (call for prayer) and Iqamat (second call for prayer). Furthermore, the volume must not exceed one-third of the full volume of the loudspeakers. The circular is based on a Hadith of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), “Lo! every one of you is calling his Lord quietly. One should not trouble the other and one should not raise the voice in recitation or in prayer over the voice of the other.”


The ministry clarified that communicating the Imam’s voice in prayer is specific to those inside the mosque, and there is no legitimate need to convey it to those in the home, “In addition to the fact that reading the Quran on external amplifiers is disrespectful to the Quran when it is recited loudly using external loudspeakers, while no one is listening to and pondering on its verses.” The ministry observed that external amplifiers and loudspeakers used for anything other than the Azan harms patients, old people and children. Regulatory measures would be taken against anyone who violates this directive.


Saudi Arabia is the birth place of the Prophet and Islam, the “Home of Islam.” The holy cities of Mecca and Medina fall in the kingdom. The kingdom plays a leadership role in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which gives to it a strong voice in the Muslim world. The enlightened decision to limit the use of loudspeakers must find resonance across the Islamic world.


In Kashmir, the use of loudspeakers in mosques for purposes other than religious necessity has been going on for decades. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when terrorism raised its ugly head in Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir, loudspeakers were financed and installed in mosques by Pakistan.


The move paid excellent dividends. On 4 January 1990, Aftab, a local Urdu newspaper from Kashmir, published a press report issued by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen asking all Kashmiri Hindus to leave the valley immediately. This was followed by broadcast of vitriolic and threatening speeches and messages from mosques: Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the land or die) and words to similar effect.


This psychological operation was accompanied by targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs in order to trigger their exodus from the valley. The resultant exit of the Kashmir Pandit community from the Valley as a consequence of this psychological terror is well documented, over 500,000 peace-loving and helpless Hindus and Sikhs were uprooted from their homes leading to the biggest ethnic cleansing witnessed in independent India.


Having achieved this massive success in a short period of time, the terror masters across the border integrated this resource seamlessly into their policy of weakening India with a thousand cuts. The Hurriyat and the terrorists gave their messages from the mosques. Crowds were collected, threats issued and diktats given through this medium. Indoctrination was done through spoken material provided by Pakistan and designed to flare up anti-India sentiments.


The preaching of a radical version of Islam to replace the enlightened Sufi culture was resorted to blatantly; it led to the rise of a Salafi-Wahabi stream of Islam in Kashmir that was earlier unknown in the valley. Lectures from the likes of Hafiz Saeed, Syed Salah-ud-Din, Akbaruddin Owaisi  and Zakir Naik through mosque loudspeakers became common place. India was incessantly described as Dar-ul-Harb (land of war) and Dar al-Kufr (land of disbelievers).


This methodology reached a crescendo in the period of massive social disruption witnessed from 2008 onwards. Of note here is the anti-India campaign played out on the death of the terrorist Burhan Wani in 2016. Pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans with fervent appeals and direct incitement to youths to join “Jihad” and fight against security forces blared from loudspeakers. This became the norm post all killings of terrorists by security forces. The process continues albeit at a limited scale, now that terrorism has been contained to a great measure in the Kashmir valley. 


It is notable that even Pakistan that speaks so voraciously about the rights of Kashmiris to use loudspeakers in mosques has been attempting to curtail the activity within the country. The Punjab Sound System (Regulation) Ordinance 2015 allows only one speaker for Azan and Friday Arabic sermons only. Loudspeakers have been removed by the police on several occasions from hundreds of mosques in big cities like Rawalpindi, Lahore and Islamabad.


In India, “secular” credentials are freely used to continue the use of loudspeakers for broadcast of prayers by all religious institutions, be it Hindu temples, Gurdwaras or Mosques. However, realisation is growing about the disrespect this practice causes apart from the discomfort to neighbours, and there is a social movement to curtail the same. In a landmark judgement, the Allahabad High Court held that the muezzin could recite ‘Azan’ from minarets of mosques using his own voice without any amplifying device. “Azan is certainly an essential and integral part of Islam, but use of microphone and loudspeakers is not an essential and an integral part thereof,” the Court stated.


In Kashmir, the matter gains significance as the use of loudspeakers in religious places poses a serious threat to peace and harmony and to the safety, security and integrity of the people and the nation. There is a strong case to seek inspiration from the Saudi model and curtail the use of loudspeakers in mosques to the limits now set in the birthplace of Islam.


(Jaibans Singh is a columnist and commentator)

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