Sitting in an office full of books overlooking a large prayer hall, Mohammed Ashfaq Kazi, a leading preacher in the largest mosque in Mumbai, glanced at the decibel meter taped into a loudspeaker before calling out for worship.
“The volume of our azaan (prayer) has become a political issue, but I do not want it to change society,” said Kazi, one of the most influential Islamic scholars in a large city on the west coast of India.
As he spoke, he pointed to the loudspeakers affixed to the decorated Juma Masjid monuments, sand-colored in the old commercial center of Mumbai.
Kazi and three other senior pastors from Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, said more than 900 mosques in the western part of the country had agreed to lower their prayer numbers following complaints from local Hindu politics.
Raj Thackeray, leader of the local Hindu group, demanded in April that mosques and other places of worship be kept within the confines of the noisy area. If they did not, he said that his followers would sing Hindu prayers without protesting mosques.
Thackeray, who said his party had only one seat in the 288-member assembly, said he was pushing for court rulings on noise levels to be enforced.
If religion is a private affair, why are Muslims allowed to use loudspeakers every 365 days (a year)? ” Thackeray told reporters in Mumbai, India’s financial center and Maharashtra headquarters.
“My dear brothers and sisters, Hindu sisters and mothers, gathered together; Be united in lowering the volume, ”he said.
The 200 million Muslim leaders in India see the move, in line with the holy Eid festival, as another strong Hindu attempt to undermine their religious freedom and freedom of expression, through a silent agreement with the ruling Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). ).
In recent weeks, a senior BJP leader began seeking to change marriages and religiously based laws on the same official code, focusing on laws that allow Muslim men, for example, to have four wives.
BJP did not respond to a request for comment on Thackeray’s action. It refuses to target the young, and says it wants continuous change that benefits all Indians.
The police are coming in
In Juma Masjid, Kazi said he complied with Thackeray’s demands to reduce the risk of violence between Muslims and Hindus.
Blood clashes have erupted all over India since independence, most recently in 2020 when dozens of people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Delhi following an anti-Muslim protests against the rule of law.
While strict Hindu leaders wanted to undermine Islam, Kazi said, “we (Muslims) must remain calm and calm.” The government took Thackeray’s initiative seriously.
Senior police officials met with religious leaders including Kazi earlier this month to ensure that the microphones were turned off, as they feared clashes in Maharashtra, home to more than 10 million Muslims and 70 million Hindus.
On Saturday, police filed a criminal case against two men in Mumbai by using a loudspeaker to recite the morning azan and warned staff members of the Trackeray party to gather at a mosque.
“Under no circumstances will we allow anyone to file a dispute with the government and the court order must be respected,” said VN Patil, a senior police officer in Mumbai.
A senior official of the Trackeray faction said the move was not intended to discriminate against Muslims but was aimed at reducing “noise” by all religious groups.
“Our team does not apologize to a few people,” said Kirtikumar Shinde, adding that police had issued 20,000 warnings to the group’s staff this month.
The issue of calling to prayer extends beyond Maharashtra. BJP politicians in three countries have called on local police to remove or reduce the use of loudspeakers in places of worship.
The country’s most populous deputy minister, Uttar Pradesh, has said that more than 60,000 unauthorized loudspeakers have been removed from mosques and temples.