Indonesia mulls tackling touchy subject of loud mosques

Published 29.06.2015 21:54

The call to prayer may be music to the ears of the faithful, but in Indonesia, some government officials have decided that 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 other's "adhan" even though they can be just tens of meters away.

It's not the first time that the government has recognized 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 in 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 the Islamic Community Guidance, said Sunday.

Mosque loudspeaker broadcasts are regulated in Indonesia by a 1978 decision by the Director General of the Islamic Community Guidance, and this has since been updated several times, he says. "The main point of the rule is that only two things can be broadcast through loudspeakers - adhan [the call to prayer, broadcast five times a day], and Quran readings."

Machasin adds that the volume should be in consideration of not just those inside, but also those outside, and that speakers should also be in a good working condition. But any attempt 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 a reaction," he says. "We're [still] looking for the right time," to spread the message to all.

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