Time to Turn Down the “Holy Noise”

Friday, 25 November 2016 - 11:15:45 WIB
By : Iman Putra Fattah | Category: Faith & Spirituality - 4959 hits
As the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia is no stranger to the Islamic call to pray five times a day (or Adhan as it is known in Arabic). In Indonesia and other Muslim majority country, the Adhan is called out by the Muezzin using loudspeakers from the top of the Minaret, reminding Muslims to do Salat or mandatory worship.

There is something beautiful about this tradition that has been passed down for centuries and adopted by Muslims all over the world. However, the use of modern technology (in this case loudspeakers) as a tool for call of pray comes with new problem that is noise pollution. Sound becomes unwanted when it interferes with normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts and diminishes an activity of another person or surrounding communities. This is especially evident in big cities with high rise buildings such as Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung, where the acoustically bad placement of speakers make the adhan sound terrible with chaotic reverberation. The Muezzin is another problem. While some mosques have good and knowledgeable Muezzin with beautiful voices, most don’t. They sometimes send little boys who barely learn how to talk to do the calling, making this tradition far from enjoyable.

As a multicultural society, Indonesia is home to hundreds of cultures, traditions and religions, but as the world’s most populous Muslim country, Islam has taken a dominant role in cultural life and politics, and the loudspeaker case is a living proof. This is what we know as hegemony where one country or social group is dominant over the others and shaping the everyday life of the people.

The Ministry of Religion issued a community guidance in 1978 about the use of loudspeakers. It clearly states that mosques have to control their volume and they cannot disturb the neighborhood before, during and after the religious procession. Sadly, this regulation had not been widely circulated by the board of mosques, so local imams think that using the loudspeaker to whatever purposes at whenever time they desire are allowed.

Studies have shown that there are direct links between noise and health.  Problems related to noise include stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity.

An extreme case in which using loudspeaker for religious purposes can lead to chaos happened not long ago in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra. Eight Buddhist temple was burned down by a mob because a woman had complained about the loudspeaker that was too loud. This, coupled with provocations in social media turned from small community quarrel to national issue, in a place where people of all faiths has been living side by side for hundreds of years.

It’s time the Ministry of religion and Board of Mosques of Indonesia take serious steps in countering noise pollution from local mosques. One way is to widely disseminate the regulatory guidance from director general of the Islamic community 1978 about the use of loudspeakers to local imams. One cannot talk about sustainable development if we cannot act on the most crucial element of healthy living, and that is deliberately induced noise pollution.

Iman Putra Fattah is a music technologist | Humanist | Photo-hobbyist | Sound Artist, telling stories with sound. He can be found on 

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

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Fitri Lestari | 30 November 2016 | 22:40:54 WIB
Iman Putra Fattah, you have beautiful name of islam. But you don't have a respect for your religion. You are humanist but you are inhuman, you are tolerance but you aren't. I give you some questions; How many mosque in Indonesia or let say in a region? How many cars that every day through the road and bring more air pollution? How many times cars bell the klaxon because people in cars "aren't patient", they may hurry to come to their office. It is more noise pollution, isn't it? How many hotels are built than mosque? Then it also makes noise pollution because on the process of making hotels the builders/ constructors make many sounds that disturb people around. See? The real enemy is Capitalism!
Iman Fattah | 07 Desember 2016 | 19:19:53 WIB
Dear Fitri Lestari, let me ask you one question: Why is it here in my hometown of Jakarta mosques are allowed to use loudspeakers as loud and as often to whatever reason as they wish but not churches and temples?
V | 16 Desember 2016 | 20:44:08 WIB
Thank you. As a Chinese, non-muslim, it's almost touching to read this. Didn't know anyone else care about this noise pollution. Respect is one thing but most people like the above commenter confuses respect with dictatorship of the majority. Thanks again for writing
Hening | 05 January 2017 | 10:18:39 WIB
My house in my hometown is located between 2 mosque, and when the shalat time arrived, they both turn on their loudspeakers, one is louder than another. But my neighbor and I never complain about it, as it doesn't bother us at all. I mean it only happens 5 times a day plus tilawatil Qur'an and ceramah in special occasions, and it has been blown since decades, so let's just bear with it. I think there are many other unnecessary noises out there that are more intrusive.
RH | 19 January 2017 | 08:03:37 WIB
A very important issue, thank you for writing this. As a (Muslim) foreigner living in Indonesia, I have noticed that the noise from mosques here is louder than other Muslim countries I have lived in. Added to that, the malls here are very noisy, which seems to indicate that Indonesians in general do not care about noise pollution. At least one can avoid the noise in the mall by staying at home. But as someone who is very sensitive to noise, I've learned that in order to live peacefully in Indonesia, one should not live near a mosque.
RH | 19 January 2017 | 08:06:55 WIB
Fitri Lestari's comment is a classic case of 'whataboutery'. Of course we should care about other forms of noise/air pollution, but the issue being addressed in this article is specifically the issue of noise in mosques. Having lived in Indonesia, I know firsthand that it's a big problem. And yes I'm a Muslim too.
Ara | 30 January 2017 | 19:48:06 WIB
I don't think a rational conversation about toning down the noise pollution will materialize. Not with the defensiveness and increasing intolerance towards minorities. Despite the existence of the law, it won't happen and they're not capable of making it happen. I bought noise cancelling earphones for the privacy of my own home but even then I feel like a prisoner in my own house for wearing it but it's better than nothing.
Ben | 31 January 2017 | 01:03:11 WIB
Comes to think about it, muslim should use their own smartphones as call to prayer. Use the apps. There's no downside to it ; you're not disturbing people, you're not creating noise pollution. Have empathy and please don't be ignorant.
John Doe | 29 March 2017 | 04:11:55 WIB
Im all for hearing the adhan (i am a muslim and I do pray 5 times a day) but what is this idiocy of the local imams when they wake people up an hour before fajr playing surah baqarah over the loudspeakers (im in kuningan and its being played as i type) and some dhikr for an hour after? having lived in countries where the general population are a lot better muslims (i.e Malaysia, Turkey) There would be justified outrage and government action against idiot imams disturbing peoples sleep, it doesnt happen there or anywhere! only here! How the hell are people meant to wake for fajr when you dont bloody well let them sleep. Really its as if they are trying to drive the population away from Islam.

May god punish those ignorant jahil imams. Sleep deprivation is a method of torture.

JS | 16 November 2017 | 09:45:02 WIB
I am currently sitting in my apartment on the 40th floor of a highrise building in Surabaya, and the Imam, who woke me up at 3:25 this morning, is still screaming into the microphone, more than 6 hours later. He has not stopped once, and it's not a recording. I should be grateful that his grating, out of tune voice is not that of the child who frequently screams, at the top of his lungs, completely unintelligibly., also for hours at a time. I can hear no traffic, none of the construction noise below, not the sounds of the birds flitting about the window

What is the point of this? It has nothing to do with Islam, and I'm sure more to do with egotistical people who care nothing for the people around them, some of whom need to sleep, study, recover from illness, have important discussions with family members, pray. If I had wanted to read the Holy Q'uran this morning I would not have been able to do so due to this inhuman and incessant shrieking.

Absolutely shameful.
Richard Alan Erskine | 12 March 2018 | 09:37:22 WIB
In my area there are far too many amplified prayer calls than necessary and they are all so loud and can be going on at any time day and night. This adds up to extreme noise pollution. Where can one complain about this and expect lawful action? Thanks

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