SA mosques growing quiet as irate neighbours complain about noise
The Muslim call to prayer is becoming increasingly rare in South African suburbs as hundreds of mosques go silent to avoid noise complaints from irate neighbours.
The all-important athaan (call to prayer) came under the spotlight this week after the City of Cape Town received a noise complaint about the historic Muir Street mosque in District Six.
A debate on the importance of upholding and respecting all religions has since played out on social media and has also seen Mandla Mandela, chief of the Mvezo traditional council, coming out in support of the mosque.
The Muir Street mosque said this week that the Muslim call to prayer, the ringing of church bells, or any other call to worship, "can never be regarded as noise".
The mosque committee indicated that it would engage the city on considering reviewing its bylaw that deals with noise pollution.
The city said it is dealing with a complaint in terms of the Western Cape noise regulations of 2013 after a resident lodged an affidavit with the police, which means it is legally compelled to investigate.
The call to prayer has long been a bone of contention in South African suburbs, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, where the majority of the country's Muslims live.
Noise complaints have resulted in more than 400 mosques installing Radio Bilal, which transmits the live call to prayer from a mosque to the homes of worshippers who have receivers installed.
Radio Bilal's Yusuf Taraj said the system had been installed in hundreds of mosques throughout SA.
"In recent years Radio Bilal has noticed an increase in complaints either regarding the construction of mosques or the loud call to prayer.
"Radio Bilal was created not for stopping the call of prayer in the mosque ... but rather to cater for residents who live a distance away," he said.
Making the call "from an elevated platform in a loud tone comes from the teachings of Islam".
"In the same breath Islam teaches us to respect and honour our neighbours," said Taraj.
Muhammed Bodhania of the Greenside Mosque Association in Johannesburg said that though "we yearn to have an audible athaan in the Greenside area, we were compelled to agree to use the transmitter to give athaan in order to expedite the establishment of the mosque".
"Therefore we fully support the efforts of the Muir Street Muslim community to continue with giving an audible athaan as they have been doing for over a 100 years."
In the upmarket suburb of Musgrave in Durban, a new mosque, which is being constructed across the road from a posh retirement complex, will transmit the call to prayer via the radio transmitter system into the homes and businesses of worshippers.
Local DA councillor Chris Pappas said there had been "concerns raised about a noise factor" and it was agreed as part of a consultation process with the community that the call to prayer would be transmitted via the radio system.
Pappas said: "I believe we must caution against calling the call to prayer 'noise'. The Muslim community is very accommodating ... and the silent call is one such way the community is expressing this."
In the seaside town of Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal there have been objections to a mosque being erected. One of the reasons residents cited was a concern about the call to prayer.
Dr Zaheer Gaffoor, an occasional worshipper at the Muir Street mosque, said he was shocked by the objection. "With the rise of Islamophobia and the widely accepted notion that Islamic practices are to be feared and contained, hate speech and other forms of intimidation have sadly come to the fore," he said.