November, 25 2016
Time to Turn Down the "Holy Noise"

Indonesia has a regulation that controls the volume of adhan coming from mosques, but it has largely been unforced, leading to the problem of sound pollution.

by Iman Putra Fattah
Issues // Politics and Society
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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 
www.imanfattah.com