On Monday, 17 April 2017, a familiar Bollywood singer, Sonu Nigam, created a flutter by his tweeter post: He complained against the “religiousness” forced on him by the loud 'azaan' (the call to prayer) over the amplified speakers coming out of the nearby mosque.
Sonu was immediately subjected to derision and criticism. Someone said he was dipping in his musical career and, therefore, was angling for the Rajya Sabha. Others said he was doing a proxy campaign for the saffron party or Narendra Modi. “A two-minute azaan was a lot better than the night long chanting of kirtans and bhajans over the loudspeakers emanating from the Hindu temples,” one elderly Muslim argued with justification.
As all of us know, azaan was a call to prayer in the Arabian Peninsula first instituted by prophet Muhammad. He designated Bilal, one of his followers, to perform this practice every day. Bilal used to honor and fulfill his job in an appealing melodic voice from the ramparts of a mosque. There was no electricity, no amplifier or no loud public address system.
The followers of prophet Muhammad had a very good sense of timing and most of them would show up for prayers and start their day. The population wasn't dense, there were no students working on their exams; there were no night shift factories labors went to; there were no health clinics, no all-night health care providers, or patients on life support system in the same vicinity.
When Islam came to the Indian subcontinent, the Hindustanis, the forefathers of the Muslims embraced the religion as a reformist, loving, caring and devotional faith that considered every human being equal with no room for discrimination based on birth, race, caste, creed or tribe.
In the early stages of the arrival of Islam in India, the Muslim converts were treated with respect as they were mostly scholarly saints, maulvis, sufis, fakirs or preachers. In villages, as respectful gesture to their new guests, the Hindus helped the Muslims set up their mosques; their priests let them do their azaan first, by moving their morning pooja and aarati later: Mosques and Temples existed side by side. Read Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan.
Later on, as every educated and aware men and women know, how Islam was misrepresented and misused for political purposes.
The Mughals used Islam to entrench their rule over the Hindustanis and also to avert any family conspiracy or feud threatening their power. The British used Islam to divide the subcontinent and the souls of the Hindustanis. The Muslim League led by a secular-modern Muhammad Jinnah used Islam to establish their two-nation theory and extracted Pakistan. The Congress Party, beginning with the Indira Gandhi's years, used Islam as a religion to divide voters and own up the Muslims as its asset, as permanent vote bank. The Saudi funded Islamist streams like Wahhabis and Salaafists used the most retrogressive interpretations of Islam and injected poison in the secular society of India as in other parts of the world, including the Muslim majority countries.
Even the democratic United States, the only superpower -- where the decision makers are overwhelmingly under the influence of the pro-Saudi lobbies -- has resorted to the strategy of tearing the Muslims apart from others to perpetuate global influence.
In India, following an action-reaction spiral with the Hindus, the Muslims began using loudspeakers to amplify their azaans from the minarets of their mosques. Their practice could not be objected to because the Hindus were also doing the same from the dome of their temples or from private houses.
There have been occasional riots breaking out between the Hindus and the Muslims over religious incantations blared on loudspeakers. There were court rulings and bylaws in urban or municipal areas against the use of loudspeakers, but they were never observed or enforced by the administration largely owing to political interference.
Therefore, Sonu Nigam's protest on twitter against the misuse of loudspeaker is not new. Many have complained before him.
Based on my observation in the city of Darbhanga (Bihar), I can testify to how the misuse of loudspeakers has increased manifold. Azaan comes from multiple mosques at the same time. The public turn on the high-volume speakers for any reason. They call it DJ. A small vendor in the market also plays loud music on his cart, so do the taxi, bus or three-wheeler drivers.
The Hindus do misuse the public-address system all the time organizing all-night religious chants or wild music; private citizens in mohallas and villages create un-civic noise by singing or playing music with filthy lyrics. The civil society doesn't take a stand against this cancerous practice that creates noise pollution. The nice-polite, gentle people in the social surroundings don't raise objection for fear of being singled out by the criminal elements in the same neighborhood.
We have reached this chaotic stage in our civilization primarily because of the absence of self-restraint or discipline, lack of empathy for others, and a suicidal absence of fair and effective administration.
In this frustrating environment, fair-minded people from all faiths will have to coalesce and ask for the imposition of a blanket ban on the misuse of loudspeakers or other loud public address system from any source.
Neither Sonu Nigam, nor any sensible, fair-minded person including the court judges can single out the mosques.
Our social consensus, enforced by the law and administration, must be: On religious occasions or social functions, the sound emerging from the speakers must not travel beyond the premise of the institution/building hosting the event.
If socially aware people like us are not successful in curbing the misuse of blaring loudspeakers, this cacophony mixed with the ever-present traffic-related noise will make our children and grandchildren born with hearing impairment. Already, in U.P. and Bihar, people generally speak louder than required.
We have to consider a ban on loudspeakers (noise pollution) as a vital public health issue -- not a Hindu-Muslim or a temple-mosque issue.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.