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Indonesia to tackle touchy subject of quieter mosques

29th Jun 2015
Indonesia to tackle touchy subject of quieter mosques

[Photo: Muslims perform first ‘Tarawih’ prayer on eve of Ramadan at Islamic Centre in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, Indonesia, on June 17, 2015. Photo: Azwar/AA]

By Ainur Rohmah

JAKARTA (AA): The call to prayer may be music to the ears of the faithful, but in Indonesia some government officials have decided sometimes it’s just a little too loud.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has initiated a new team to tackle the touchy subject of mosque loudspeaker volume, which has seen some buildings drown out each others “adhan” even though they can be just tens of meters away.

It’s not the first time that the government has recognised the problem: In 2012, previous vice president Boediono sparked debate when he suggested volumes should be lowered as it might disturb other people, including fellow Muslims.

A quieter call to prayer is more likely to enter a person’s heart rather than loud sounds, Boediono – who like many Indonesians goes by only one name – added.

Mosque volume has long been a sensitive debate in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. While some want the loudspeakers turned down to tackle what they term noise pollution, Conservative groups are opposed, seeing it as an attack on faith.

Usman Roin, one of around 100 technicians deployed across the country to help fine-tune mosque loudspeaker systems, confirmed to Anadolu Agency on Sunday the difficulties in prohibiting such noise, underlining that the “adhan” is integral to Indonesian customs.

He says that to tackle the problem the group has been slowly approaching mosque caretakers.

“Our main task is to help mosque caretakers understand how to turn down the volume of sound systems so they become more harmonious with other mosques in the area,” said Roin, who comes from Semarang, a port city in Central Java.

“We monitor where mosque sound systems are problematic, then we fix them.”

Roin says that the problem is not always down to a desire to best spread the word of Allah; sometimes it’s down to sheer competition, with rival mosques looking to drown out rival sound systems.

“We tell them how to emit the correct sound so that mosques can be more harmonious,” he says.

Roin adds, however, that volume is not the sole issue, and highlights the poor quality of much of the nation’s mosque equipment with lousy speakers often cackling with distortion.

“Many problems occur due to a lack of maintenance,” he says, estimating that around 80 percent of the loudspeakers at Indonesia’s some 800,000 mosques are sub-standard.

He adds that a callout from a caretaker – if guidance on a sound system or new equipment is needed – is often favored as it gives him a chance to offer a quiet word.

The director general of the Minister of Religious Affairs-related division confirmed to Anadolu Agency that some caretakers do not comply with rules on the use of loudspeakers due to lack of socialization.

“The rule already exists, but some of them [mosque’s caretaker] don’t obey,” Machasin, the boss of Islamic Community Guidance, said Sunday.

Mosque loudspeaker broadcasts are regulated in Indonesia by a 1978 decision by the Director General of Islamic Community Guidance, and this has since been updated several times, he says.

“The main point of the rule is only two things can be broadcast through loudspeakers – Adhan [the call to prayer, broadcast 5 times a day], and Quran readings.”

Machasin adds that the volume should be in consideration of not just those in, but also outside, and that speakers should also be in a good working condition.

But any attempt to seen to control what to many is food for their faith is still a touchy subject in Indonesia.

“It’s important to educate mosque caretakers in “noise pollution,” but we have to “be cautious” as we don’t want to cause “too big reaction,” he says.

“We’re [still] looking for the right time,” to spread the message to all.

Not everyone, however, sees mosque volume as such a private concern, some even prepared to go public with their complaints.

In 2013, Sayed Hasan – long frustrated by noise levels – attempted to sue his local Banda Aceh mosque in a court, but was reported to have eventually dropped his complaint in the face of local protests.

Meanwhile, 65-year-old United States citizen Luke Gregory Lloyd is reported to have been sentenced to five months in jail in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, after he was found guilty of unplugging mosque loudspeakers during a reading of the Quran.

Mia Qothrunnada – who describes herself as a proud Muslim, and says she lives very close to a mosque – told Anadolu Agency that although she is used to what she terms a “loudspeaker war” from the buildings in her neighborhood, the government should think about regulating volume for other believers.

“It’s no problem in majority Muslim areas, but if there are many non-Muslims then they need to decrease the loudspeakers as a sign of appreciations of other faiths,” she says.

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