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Religious noise - living in the shadow of mosques and churches

BY: Dr H. Aborbi
Religious noise - living in the shadow of mosques and churches
Religious noise - living in the shadow of mosques and churches

We need constitutional law experts to clarify unambiguously where the Ghanaian constitution stands on freedom of religion; whether an individual’s freedom to practise a religion of his or her choice overrides the freedoms of other citizens, or whether freedom of religion takes cognisance of other citizens’ freedoms?

This clarification is needed urgently for two reasons. First, leaders of some religious institutions behave as if freedom of religion is absolute and entitles them to disregard the freedoms of other citizens, an attitude which may have resulted from the way senior politicians have lately been pandering to imams, priests and pastors.

Second, recent proliferation of churches and, to a less extent, mosques in suburbs in Accra has led to an increasing number of people living close to churches and mosques, and to these people being subjected to unacceptable noise levels from churches and mosques.

Churches

We read about people regularly subjected to very loud prayer sessions late nights and early mornings by Christian groups in complete disregard for the right of these people to a quiet night’s sleep. There was also the reported case of a Member of Parliament who had to call the police to intervene because a church service near his residence got very loud. Instead of the pastor apologising, he threatened to instruct his followers not to support the MP in elections. This pastor obviously does not believe in the golden rule of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Mosques

Then, there are the loud calls to prayer by imams at about 4am, 12pm and 6 pm which make having a sound sleep or peace and quiet impossible for non-Muslims, especially the call at 4am. My friend who works in a restaurant does not get home until about 1.30 am on busy nights, very tired and in need of some sleep.

However, he is denied any sleep because he lives about 150 metres from the Abelenkpe Mosque, and his sleep is interrupted by loud calls to prayer at 4 am from six large megaphones in the mosque. Other shift workers - nurses, the police and factory workers through no fault of their own, have to work ‘non-regular’ hours and sleep at ‘non-regular’ hours. Who knows what impact depriving them of sound sleep has on their productivity and health. Even non-shift workers have a right to peaceful sleep, uninterrupted by religious activities of other citizens

In effect, the legal clarification is to remind religious institutions of their responsibilities under freedom of religion, and empower victims of unbearable religious noise to take a stand and complain to their MPs. To be fair, not all imams turn the megaphones on very loud and not all Christian institutions sing or pray loud late night and early mornings.


Given this atmosphere, I was excited when the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology was reported to have raised the issue of noise from religious institutions, and to ask whether calls to prayer could not be made via WhatsApp. Some Muslims immediately took umbrage at what the minister said and branded it barbaric, with some arguing that the call to prayer was an injunction from the Qur’an.

Megaphones

Are they implying therefore that non-Muslims just have to put up with the irritating calls to prayer or that no way should be sought to balance these calls to prayer and the right to peace and quiet for others? Fortunately, not all Muslims were hostile in their responses. An Imam was reported to have welcomed the idea of WhatsApp but for the fact that he was not paid as an Imam and could not afford the data cost. Another, Haj. Mohammed Lamin Abdul Hamid, in a thoughtful article (Ghanaian Times June 14), lamented how some Muslims turn the volume of the megaphones so loud and ignore disturbance to non-Muslim neighbours. Please Mr Abdul Hamid, talk to the Imam of the Abelenkpe mosque!

It is time to curb excessive noise from all sources and I believe we should start with religious noise, because religious noise, like the low hanging fruit, could be tackled first as it would require dealing with the Christian Council and its Islamic equivalent and probably a few imams and priests. My hope is for a genuine bi-partisan discussion about religious noise and how to reduce it while reminding all citizens that Ghana is a secular state. However, given the toxic partisan politics in the country, my fear is that the issue will be turned into a partisan game by politicians pandering to religious leaders for electoral advantage.

PS.

I have been reminded of an African country that closed nuisance churches and banned calls to prayer with no apparent impact on attendance at mosques while providing a significant dividend in terms of peace and quiet for all citizens.

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