Azaan and Freedom of Expression – Are they Compatible?

Sonu Nigam’s comments that modern technology offers the Muslims a chance to show grace to their non-Muslim brothers and respect their privacy and their fundamental right to NOT listen to the Azaan.

Sonu Nigam is what we would call a moderately famous personality in Bollywood. But on 17th April, he shot to fame once again when he inadvertently committed a cardinal sin according to Indian secularism. He criticized the self-arrogated right of the Muslim community to intrude into the personal space of the Hindu majority by blaring azaans on the loud speakers. [1]

He did not criticize Azaan per se. He only criticized the use of the loud speakers [2] but Indian secularists are not the subtlest of creatures. Nuances are not what you would expect of them. In their world, anyone who is not with them is at war with them.

A spate of angry denunciations and disappointments were shared on social media, with many thekedars of Indian liberalism and secularism criticizing him of ‘playing into the hands of communalists at the government’. [3] Some called it just a publicity stunt, blaming him of aspiring to become the ‘Anupam Kher of 2017’,[4] whatever that means.

The net result was that #SonuNigam was trending for most of the day on social media websites. Once again, somebody had violated the sacrosanct laws of Indian secularism and invited the wrath of the Indian liberal upon him. Was it really outrageous? What was so wrong with what Nigam said?

Loudspeakers and their use in public is an outrage, whether they are used in a religious or a social event. Their use without restraint is certainly a nuisance for any civilized society. They are banned by the Supreme Court in India. [5] Even some Islamic countries have banned its use. Saudi Arabia is one of them. [6] But in India, even after the ban, they are used without restrain. Their use should be curbed; there is no doubt about that.

But there was one more point that Nigam made. He said that even while he was not a Muslim, he was forced to listen to the Azaan, or the Shahada, the Declaration of Islam. To him it was something forced; something akin to ‘gundagardi’.

But is it?

What exactly does the Mullah say in the Azaan? What is it about?

Azaan is the Islamic call to worship, recited by the appointed Muezzin in the mosque. It calls upon the Muslims to prayer, reminding them of their allegiance to Islam, a faith which demands strict adherence. It starts with Takbir, and then follows with Shahada.

Takbir is the Islamic expression of faith, meaning “Allah is the greatest.” It is a statement of religious defiance, a declaration to everyone outside the religious fold of Islam. The Shahada takes it even further, making it a sort of religious warning. The Shahada says: “There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

Islam, it is well known, is a monotheistic faith like Christianity and Judaism. For the monotheists, worshipping many deities is not just wrong; it is the greatest sin possible. For Muslims, just like there is One True Holy Book, One True God, there is also One True Prophet, humanity’s only conduit to God.

Holding any view is acceptable if it is done in private. So even this extreme view is tolerable if it is kept private. However, if it is forced upon others then it should have no place in a civilized society.

Historically, the Azaan was meant to show the polytheists of the 7th century Arabia that Allah is greater than other gods worshipped by them. [7] It was not just a defiant declaration of Islamic faith. It was also meant as an insult; a denigration of other faiths. It was more concerned with the non-Muslims than Muslims.

From the beginning, it was meant to be intrusive, to make the non-Muslim aware of the might of Islam. From the beginning it violated the right of the non-Muslim to NOT listen to the Islamic Declaration of Faith. From the beginning, the non-Muslim had no choice but to submit to the aggressive tyranny of the Islamic call to prayer.

Islam does not really allow freedom of expression. Criticizing the Prophet is punishable by death. [8] Abandoning Islam is punishable by death.[9] The Muslims, advised by the Quran and the Hadith, consider that the Islamic god Allah is not just superior to other gods, but is the only God. Believing otherwise, is a cardinal sin.

The Azaan is the daily expression of this exclusivist and intolerant claim of Islam.

It is in direct abrogation of the freedom of expression. It was forced upon the non-Muslims of the seventh century Arabia and subsequently upon the rest of the world. It should have no place in a civilized modern society, based on true secular credentials.

The importance of Azaan to the Islamic faith is clear from the fact that Prophet Muhammad considered it critical for the survival and propagation of Islam. He appointed Bilal, the converted African, as the first ever Muezzin in Islam. Bilal had the loudest voice among his peers. He was thought fit to be appointed as the muezzin; to call Muslims to prayer through Azaan. That the Prophet chose someone with the loudest voice to do the Azaan shows, he considered it central to the new faith of Islam.

The intrusive nature of Azaan also becomes obvious from Islamic architecture and the minaret’s place in it. To a student of architecture, the minaret in the mosque is an intriguing thing.  More often than not, his aesthetic sensibilities are hurt at the sight of that out-of-place and often ugly turret which juts out from some of the most beautiful mosques in the world. In most cases the minaret just destroys the architectural symmetry of the mosque. Which makes us question? Why do mosques need the minaret?

They need the minaret because it is necessary for Azaan. A higher minaret would get the voice of the muezzin farther. In the seventh century Arabia, it was the minaret, which fulfilled the role of the loud speaker. Just like a bigger loud speaker takes the azaan farther, so did the minaret in ancient times.

And just as the loud speaker in a modern mosque is an intrusion into the privacy of non-Muslims, so were the minaret and the Azaan in the pre-modern times. This is the crux of the issue.

A Muslim woman suggested during the row over Sonu Nigam’s comments that modern technology offers the Muslims a chance to show grace to their non-Muslim brothers and respect their privacy and their fundamental right to NOT listen to the Azaan. They can put alarms in their mobiles which would personally sound the Takbir and the Shahada to them five times a day and nobody else would be disturbed. By doing this, they would fulfill the injunctions of their religion and at the same time respect the sensibility of non-Muslims as well.

The willingness of the Muslims to do this will be the ultimate test of the Islamic ideology about its compatibility with the notion of freedom of expression.

References-

  1. Rawal Kukreja, Monika & Mukherjee Shreya. “Film industry stands divided on Sonu Nigam’s tweets about azaan.” Hindustan Times. April 18, 2017.
  2. Matthew, Suresh. “Not About Azaan or Aarti, It’s About the Loudspeaker: Sonu Nigam”. The Quint. April 18, 2017.
  3. Twitter handle of Rana Ayyub. “…the govt of the day wants us to be caught in a web of communal / nationalist issues to divert us from it’s failures.”
  4. Vij, Shivam. “When Will Indian Liberals Stop Falling Into The Right-Wing Trap?”. The Huffington Post. April 17, 2017.
  5. Philip, Christian Mathew. “Banned by SC, but loudspeakers still spring up in city, rob citizens of peace.” The New Indian Express. Oct 13, 2016.
  6. Arab News. “Mosques to mute external speakers during prayers.” Arab News. June 6, 2015.
  7. WikiIslam. “Adhan”
  8. Margoliouth, D. S. Mohammed and the Rise of Islam. New Delhi: Voice of India.
  9. Hadith Sahih Bukhari (52:260): “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’”

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Pankaj Saxena is a scholar of History, Hindu Architecture and Literature. He has visited more than 400 sites of ancient Hindu temples and photographed the evidence. He has been writing articles, research papers and reviews in various print and online newspapers and magazines. He currently works as the Asst. Professor, Centre for Indic Studies, Indus University, Ahmedabad. He has authored three books so far. He maintains a blog at http://literaryfalcon.wordpress.com/
  • Infinite Wisdom

    Muslims only know one way — the way of the sword. So far, only Trump has understood the menace and tried to counter it. The Hindus are weak and confused.

  • Infinite Wisdom

    What you say makes so much sense but your reach is limited. The sickulars have control of the media, academia, NGOs, entertainment industry, government bureaucracy, judiciary, and even the Modi government is scared of the sickulars.

  • Subramaniam Narasimhan

    There is no difference between the secularists on one hand and the jihadists of the Arabia born religion and the evangelists of the Palestine born religion on the other.
    The same secularists will be fretting and fuming when a Sanatan Dharma Temple starts playing music early in the morning or at any odd hours. As long as the secularists of the jihadi-evangelist variety exist in India, there can be no peace in India.
    Many a time their words and deeds put even the ISIS and Opus-Dei to shame. One must examine the articles of Prevention of Targeted Violence and Access to Reparations Bill brought forth by Sonia Gandhi, the NAC, Manmohan and their supporters like Karunanidhi, Mamata, Laloo and Mulayam.

    • Sukrit Banerjee

      Subramanium narasimhan, hindu temples also use loudspeakers to play bhajans or other religious songs. This also destroys privacy of non hindus. Now don’t say I am an anti national. I am a proud, practising hindu. But at the same time, I feel that when my religion is resorting to the use of loudspeakers to propagate religious messages, why should other religions be denied the chance? I live in a Muslim majority area and azaans are a regular thing in my locality. But it does not destroy the peace of hindus or Christians who live here. People have lost patience and tolerance for each other nowadays.

      • prashants5 .

        >> Subramanium narasimhan, hindu temples also use loudspeakers to play bhajans or other religious songs

        That’s correct but you are twisting it like as if it is a Norm in Every temple. I admire your argument, perhaps you are using a fake Hindu name. If you were a real hindu you should know that all the temples don’t play music. And those who play, they don’t play as part of their daily practice at the same time ( in this case 5 times a day ) of the day and everyday following some Bookish Rules. Few play everyday while few play on occassions and many don’t play at all.

        >> People have lost patience and tolerance for each other nowadays.

        Oh yeah this is another cowardice statement coming from someone supposed to be Hindu. We were really so tolerant to divide our country to create two more countries known as Pakistan and Bangladesh. That has been the never-ending geo-political mess. Wow! how tolerant and Patient we were before!

        >> I am a proud, practising hindu.

        Can you please tell me what does this bombastic phrase “Practising Hindu” mean? I often here this “English” phrase ( mostly borrowed from Christians ) and never understand properly what does it mean.

        • Infinite Wisdom

          The idiot is a Bengali and that should explain his comments. Bengalis are totally mixed up in the head.

          • Sukrit Banerjee

            Infinite wisdom, yes, and it was two bengalis, swami vivekananda and shree aurobindo, that Hinduism has been able to challenge the hegemony of Orientalist and colonial discourse that has been prevalent since the early 20 th century. Bengali hindus are no less hindus than you cow belt idiots.

          • Pratyush Pandey

            Okay mistor, shakta brahmin hindu … It is dayanand saraswati who should be given this Honor not neo hindu bengali you named, although I admire them notwithstanding they were not a cow belt person like me… Anyway I agree that those ugly jagran of Shakta hindus should be regulated, especially those perverted mata sangeet … But they come in nuisance like barat and concerts and hardly have any political implications.. azan deceleration is negation of other mata, other thoughts other opinion.. if your durga puja follows same deceleration ban it…

            Form a gaud sarswat brahmin of cow belt…

          • Pratyush-ji. There is no need to dub Swami Vivekanada or Sri Aurobindo as neo-Hindus. That was completely uncalled for. Similarly, Sukrit’s assessment of Swami Vivekananda and Aurobindo is absolutely bogus.

            1. Profiles like Sukrit Banerjee (a Bengali Brahmin) are created intentionally to exploit stereotypes and divide Hindus.

            2. He has used jargons like “Shakta” to confuse the issue.
            3. No Bengali to my knowledge except extremists in Jadavpur uses terms like “cow-belt”

            In short, he is a Troll. So don’t get carried away and insult all Bengalis or Maharishis.

            We are on the same side when it comes to Azaan and cow-slaughter.

          • Pratyush Pandey

            Have deep respect for aurobindo and vivekanand. Uncalled for, I apologize.

          • Infinite Wisdom

            Bengalis were the best. Read Bankim Chattopadhyay. Modern Bengalis are totally useless — supporting Marxists and crazy Mamta. I have never seen a people go from the top to bottom so quickly.

        • Sukrit Banerjee

          Prashant5, I am a bengali brahmin and my family has always been a follower of Shaktism.so I am a Shakta hindu. I am not hiding behind fake names, there is no need for me to do so. If loudspeakers is the issue. Then it should be stopped both in temples as well as masjids. Azaans are done not more than 2-3 minutes and do not disturb the peace of the locality, even that of non Muslims. If you are not used to it or disturbed by it, you should go to another locality. Of course, if loudspeakers are to be banned, then that should be done without distinction, whether it is an azaan or a jagraata.

          • Sukrit Banerjee

            Prashant5, there are hindus by birth who are not ” practising” their religion, like atheists . That is why I have used it.

          • Jana krish

            Banerjee, the same equally applies to muslims. If Hindus are offended and disturbed by the unbearable wailing of a grown up man in an unintelligible language 5 times everyday, they must just shut the fuck up or move to a place where it would not offend and disturb the rest.

          • Jana krish

            And by the way, i live in a place where there are 3 mosques spread over a couple of blocks. These guys make sure they cause maximum nuisance by wailing one after the other in succession, never all at once. There intention is not prayer but to reinforce their presence and assumed supremacy.

          • Hidayat Rizvi

            Khud ko reply kar raha hai khud ka choos raha hai

          • Hidayat Rizvi

            Choos le uska

          • prashants5 .

            >> If loudspeakers is the issue. Then it should be stopped both in temples as well as masjids.

            You are missing the point here. Loudspeaker is not an issue here. The issue is using the Loudspeaker in a Pattern for Aazan everyday and everywhere in the odd hours. And that bothers the majorities and hence should be respected. In case of Hindu Temples I already explained there is no such pattern and nor every Hindu Temple plays music. So your argument fails here.

            Using Loudspeaker for Aazan is an organized, systemized and centralized norm and practice. Hence is a problem. And playing music at Random is not the same what you claim and the comparison you make doesn’t make any sense.

    • Fully agree with you. Let me be politically incorrect. Azan is a menace to civilized society, and azan played through loudpspakers is an assault on all that is good in humanity. If they want Arabic Azans, use headphones or better still go to Saudi. I have lived in Muslim majority areas (Ibrahminnagar in Zahiranagar) – it is absolutely intolerable. I couldn’t stay beyond 9 months. I used to feel frustrated – every morning before I could even say the name of Vishnu, I was forced to listen to screeching Arabic superstitious nonsense.

      India is a Hindu country – and desert cults are not allowed here, with or without loudspeakers. That is my view.

      As to the profile below, not sure if it is genuine, or someone using a false profile using Bengali name, because Bengalis are perceived as being anti-Hindu. So to be taken with a pinch of salt.

      • Sukrit Banerjee

        Subhadeep babu, apni je elaka ar kotha bolchen, sekhane jeta hocche ta amio somorthon kori na. Kintu sob jaiga e byaparta erokom noi. Ami chetla e thaki. Ekhane kintu erokom osubidhaa nei. Amar kotha hocche, loudspeaker kintu sobai byabohar kore
        Tai ban korte gele jeno parar jolsha ar kothao mone rakha hoi. Ami anti hindu noi. Ami ekjon shakto. Hindutva vad apnar pocket e rakhun.

        • Apni Trinamool. And most likely, your ancestors were thrown out of Bangladesh. That is why you are behaving like a dhimmi.

          And sir, what do you mean by Shakta? What exactly do you do?

          Do you wake up ever morning at Brahma Mhurta? Do you do your sandhya regularly? You are Banerjee shandily gotra, supposedly a Brahmin – what is your veda, shakha, pravara? Do you do go-seva? Do you spread the knowledge of the Vedas? Do you maintain silence during lunch? Specifically to Shakta – do you known the Devi Spatasati by heart? Do you do devi aradhana daily? What kind of Shakti sadhana do you do?

          Shakta does not mean the license to eat meat and fish and do goat-bali. Shakti sadhana is a very tough thing.

          India is a Hindu nation, and I will do Hindu-vad to my heart’s extent. You please keep your irrationality/ dhimmitude to yourself.