People take part in the night prayers inside an old mosque in Cairo, Egypt December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
CAIRO - 13 January 2018: Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Gomaa decided to implement the unification Adhan (prayer call) law in Egypt in the upcoming period, stirring controversy and outrage in the parliament.
The announcement came following many calls to implement the unification of the call to prayer, meaning that a single performer would broadcast by radio throughout all of the mosques in Cairo in a synchronized address, aiming to end the distortion and noise that is caused by thousands of loudspeakers announcing prayer calls at different times.
The Adhan is the Islamic call to prayer, which occurs five times a day – often through the loudspeakers of a mosque – reminding Muslims that it is time to pray, in accordance with Islamic Sharia law.
“People in each region of the country get accustomed to a certain mu’azzen’s (one who makes the call to prayer) voice and it’s not acceptable to force them to hear a unified Adhan every time under any justification,” MP Omar Hamroush, Secretary of the Religious Committee, said in response to Gomaa’s announcement, adding that this law contradicts Islam’s spirit.
Hamroush expressed his rejection to the resolution, stating that such decisions are controversial and have no value, and that it would be very difficult to be followed.
The head of Parliament's Religious and Endowments Affairs Committee, Major General Shoukry el-Gendy, stated that this unified Adhan law can only be implemented in Cairo, but it is not applicable in other Egyptian governorates due to the time differences between Cairo and other governorates.
“I’m afraid that this decision may lead eventually to killing the spirit of the Adhan in the Egyptian people,” Gendy continued.
“This idea was sparked earlier in 2014 when former Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud Zaqzouq called for the unification of the call to prayer and we didn’t accept it; instead, it was met with a spate of attacks by the Religious Affairs Committee in parliament, who refused to follow his calls,” said MP Amna Nosseir, who is a professor of comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, opposing Gomaa’s decision.
Zaqzouq has earlier justified his calls, stating the benefits of a unified call on the “well-being of the people, especially those who are sick or pupils who need to concentrate on their studies.”
Nosseir told Egypt Today that the true problem lies in using the loud microphones late in the night. “In Fajr prayer, just before the sun rises, as it is our time of sleeping in Cairo and it can easily be solved by reducing the sounds of microphones; otherwise, the other four prayers do not cause any problems.”
Sherin Reda is the Egyptian actress who brought the problem of Adhan unification to the surface after her bold statement on a TV program criticizing the loudspeakers used for the Adhan.
“There are children who wake up scared because of the sound of the Adhan; is this how you call them to pray?” the actress told Samar Yousry during their talk on the TV program Ana we Ana on ON Satellite channel, wondering why the unified Adhan law has yet to be imposed. She said that mu’azzens’ cacophonic voices affect tourism negatively. “It has nothing to do with religion; it is just noise,” Reda added.
The Ministry of Endowments backed the actress’s statements and pointed out that Reda overly cares for Islam and wants to improve its image through the Adhan. Nevertheless, Reda was subject to criticism by the public last week; an attorney has even filled a lawsuit against the actress for contempt of religion (penalty ranges between six months and five years in prison) for mocking the Islamic call for prayer.
MPs in the House of Representatives expressed their outrage over Reda’s statements, asking her for an apology to the roughly 1.8 billion Muslims in Egypt and around the world.
Reda is not the first public figure to criticize the loudspeakers of the Adhan; Sheikh Mohamed Metwaly Sha’rawi, a prominent Egyptian Islamic preacher who died in 1998, criticized the loudspeakers of the Adhan and some mu’azzens’ voices, saying they do not represent the calmness and peace of Islam.
The first law to unify the Adhan was issued in 2010, to regulate the broadcasting of one version of Adhan through all speakers in Cairo's 4,000 mosques, but the law was halted after the 2011 revolution due to technical obstacles.
Salafist preachers and supporters claimed that being anti-loudspeakers is an attempt to obliterate one of the most remarkable signs of Islam, saying that without the Adhan, Arab nations will turn into western countries where mosques usually do not use loudspeakers to call for prayer.
The Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, India and Oxford, UK have bans on the use of loudspeakers by mosques, due to the disturbances they cause to residents and their contradiction with the calm nature of the cities.