Mumbai mosques lower volume of calls to prayer for religious harmony
Police stand guard at the gate of Jama Masjid in Mumbai on Friday. Reuters
Sitting in a desk lined with books overlooking a giant prayer hall, Mohammed Ashfaq Kazi, the chief preacher at Mumbai’s largest mosque, checked a decibel meter attached to loudspeakers before giving the call to worship.
“The volume of our Azaan (call to prayer) has become a political issue, but I don’t want it to take a communal turn,” said Kazi, one of the most influential Islamic scholars in the sprawling metropolis of the west coast of India.
As he spoke, he pointed to loudspeakers attached to the minarets of the ornate sand-colored Juma Masjid in Mumbai’s old shopping districts.
Kazi and three other senior clerics in Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, said more than 900 mosques in the western state had agreed to lower the volume of prayer calls following complaints from a local Hindu politician.
Mohammed Ashfaq Kazi speaks during the interview in Mumbai. Reuters
Raj Thackeray, leader of a regional Hindu party, demanded in April that mosques and other places of worship remain within permitted noise limits. If they didn’t, he said his followers would chant Hindu prayers outside mosques in protest.
Thackeray, whose party has just one seat in the state’s 288-member assembly, said he was simply insisting that court rulings on noise levels be enforced.
“If religion is a private matter, why are Muslims allowed to use loudspeakers all 365 days (of the year)?” Thackeray told reporters in Mumbai, India’s financial hub and the capital of Maharashtra.
“My dear Hindu brothers, sisters and mothers, come together, be one to bring down these speakers,” he said.
Leaders of India’s 200 million Muslims view the move, which coincided with the holy festival of Eid, as another attempt by radical Hindus to undermine their rights to freedom of worship and religious expression, with the agreement tacit of the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In recent weeks, a top BJP leader has begun pushing to swap religion-based marriage and inheritance laws with a uniform civil code, aiming for rules that allow Muslim men, for example, to have four wives.
The BJP did not respond to a request for comment on Thackeray’s initiative. He denies targeting minorities and says he wants progressive change that benefits all Indians.
THE POLICE INTERVENE
At the Juma Masjid, Kazi said he complied with Thackeray’s demands to reduce the risk of violence between Muslims and Hindus.
Bloody clashes have erupted sporadically across India since independence, most recently in 2020 when dozens of mostly Muslims were killed in Delhi following protests against a citizenship law that , according to Muslims, was discriminatory against them.
Muslims walk out of the Juma Masjid after offering Friday prayers in Mumbai. Reuters
As hardline Hindu rulers sought to undermine Islam, Kazi said, “we (Muslims) must maintain calm and serenity.” The state took Thackeray’s initiative seriously.
Senior police officials met with religious leaders including Kazi earlier this month to ensure microphones were muted amid fears of clashes in Maharashtra, home to more than 10 million Muslims and 70 million of Hindus.
On Saturday, police filed a criminal complaint against two men in Mumbai for using loudspeakers to recite Azaan early in the morning and warned Thackeray’s party workers not to congregate around mosques.
“Under no circumstances will we allow anyone to create communal tension in the state and the court order must be obeyed,” said VN Patil, a senior Mumbai police official.
A senior Thackeray party official said the initiative was not designed to isolate Muslims but was aimed at reducing “noise pollution” created by all places of worship.
“Our party does not appease the minority community,” said Kirtikumar Shinde, adding that police issued warnings to 20,000 party activists this month.
The issue of calls to prayer extends beyond Maharashtra. BJP politicians in three states have asked local police to remove or limit the use of loudspeakers in places of worship.
The deputy chief minister of the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, said more than 60,000 unauthorized loudspeakers had been removed from mosques and temples.