Hindu and Muslims have lived together side by side for centuries in India. They have learnt to enjoy each other’s festivals and rituals. Diwali, the festival of light; Eid, the occasion for Sewais; and Holi, the festival of gaiety; all occasions were meant to enjoy and visit each other’s place and strengthen the bonds.
Among numerous rituals, Azaan or call to prayer is one, which is heard by Hindus and Muslims in a locality five times a day. Irrespective of merits or demerits of the recent controversy, a melodious call, specifically in the morning, sounds pleasant and uplifting for the soul, while cacophony of discordant calls from several mosques close by, sounds unpleasant and irritating for those who do not want to wake up early.
The Quran significantly has an interesting directive in Sura Al-Baqr (2:256). The original Arabic words La ikraha fee alddeeni are usually interpreted as ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’. However, the crucial word ikraha is from karihi meaning unpleasant. Using it with La for negative and al-deen as ‘The religion’, the verse seems to say that ‘do not make things unpleasant in religion’.
In the western world where DJs, Jagran, Aarti, and Azaan are not allowed, the management of mosques and temples still advise their attendees to behave in a disciplined manner so that the congregation may not inconvenience other communities. The haphazard parking of cars is often an issue there.
Muslim countries do not have such problems. The callers to prayer are usually well trained, have good voice and are paid well. However, in older quarters, where several mosques are close by, the decibel value often reaches unpleasant levels. In Egypt, an effort has been done to synchronize it, so that one pleasant call is heard from all the mosques, instead of several calls in the close vicinity.
We, in India, cannot afford such an experiment, however, five advantages are available to us in this regard. Utilization of these advantages creatively, may turn a controversial objection in its infancy into something positive for all.
First advantage is the availability of melodious pre-recorded Azaan of moazzin, from well-known mosques of Mecca, Medina and Al Aqsa etc. My own favourite is the Fajr azaan by Rashid Misri, which is breath taking in its rendition.
Second advantage is the high penetration of mobile phones in our country. These are ubiquitous at almost all levels. A dedicated mobile, connected directly to the amplifier of the mosque, without a SIM, can be used to render highest quality Azaan.
Third advantage is that the timings of Azaan are not random. Calculations of different Islamic schools of thought are available, based on latitude and longitude of a place. Hanafi school, which is quite popular here, differs slightly from Shaafi’i school, however, this difference lessens in Ramazan.
Fourth is the availability of free Azaan
software in the market, where the timings can be set accurately based on these calculations.
Fifth and final advantage is the availability of dedicated young Muslims in the community who are prepared to work for God and volunteer their services free of cost.
Combining all these advantages together, a small dedicated group of volunteers can convince the Moazzins of their areas to limit their role to turn on the amplifier only, instead of calling the faithful themselves. The mobile connected to the amplifier will automatically render the Azaan at the appointed time.
Moazzins may resist this suggestion in the initial stage, but these are mostly God fearing individuals. Once they understand the purpose, they should accept the proposal. The volunteers can also download the software on the mobiles, choose the method of timings, and help in the uniform selection of ‘caller’.
Once an initial effort is done, no other work will be required. The Moazzin whose job till now is to wake up at the appointed time, and put ‘on’ the amplifier, will do the same as before.
The result however, will be the flow of a single recorded melodious Azaan through speakers, in sync with all other mosques, who have opted for the specific timings and caller. It will serve its purpose of calling people of all strata, and will be short and pleasant for those who do not want to wake up.
Before and immediately after partition, Moazzin commanded respect and position. Men of the village coveted this position. The Zamindaars (land lords) paid the salary and interviewed them for their call, resulting in proper selection of individuals. It was because of it that I still remember the lilting melodious Azaan of my childhood when we visited the rural landscape of our Nanihaal. In accompaniment with khatar khat sound of hand operated looms and continuous puch puch puch of oil engine, these haunting calls, forever frozen into my memory, turned the mornings and evenings much more beautiful.