Muslim prayer over loudspeakers has generated public controversy in Egypt this week, much like that in Israel recently.
The debate ensued a day after Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowments issued a ban on the use of loudspeakers by mosques during certain prayers recited during the Muslim festival of Ramadan.
The emergence of a debate in Egypt over restricting mosque loudspeakers as a noise prevention measure belies the allegations of Arab Israeli leaders that the Israeli proposal was anti-Muslim.
A bill currently pending in the Knesset would muzzle the muezzin calls to prayer, but only during nighttime hours. Proponents of the bill say that it is intended to eliminate the disturbance of the peace caused by loud broadcasts at hours when people are trying to sleep or rest, and is not directed against freedom of religion.
The Egyptian minister, Mokhtar Gomaa, defended the ban as an “organizational decision.” He maintained that “the ban on loudspeakers has been introduced in order to prevent disorder when all the voices of the imams become mixed up into each other, and so that the students will be able to concentrate on the readings.”
He noted also that “loudspeakers will be authorized when a mosque has insufficient capacity for all the prayer-goers, who will therefore need to pray outside.”
Critics were not mollified. Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s official religious institution for drafting edicts, countered, “religious leaders have emphasized the need for loudspeakers so that those praying will be able to hear and follow the prayers. The call to prayer is also included in this law.”
The Egyptian parliament is split. Members of the Egyptian Committee on Religion were bogged down in the pros and cons of the issue.
The new measure came at a time of tension between Muslims and Christians in the country. A Christian student admitted into the dentistry school of the Islamic Al-Azhar University sparked controversy. Tempers also flared after the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments gave permission to a Coptic Christian journalist to renovate a mosque in his town – in what was condemned as an “unprecedented move.”