The melodious recitation of the Mu’adhdhin can be heard over the hustle and bustle of the souk (market) and sets off a ripple of Adhāns throughout the city. People in the background rushing around to get their shopping done before markets close and empty as fast as they are filled, as well as taking time out to pray in masjids, homes, shops or even in the streets.
It is this kind of imagery and sounds which we have become accustomed to over the years. Often used by directors of documentaries and fictional drama, it is an effective tool in imparting an understanding that we are about to watch something related to Muslims and Islam. Given its symbolic nature alongside its functional purpose, the call to prayer is something we usually associate with Muslim-majority countries, often termed ‘Muslim countries’. However, due to the increase over the decades of Muslim populations in western countries where Islam isn’t the predominant religion in society, the call to prayer is now being witnessed in many places in the UK. This has been arranged legally and sensibly, between mosque and local council, with little commotion, clamour or clinker. The local council then either permits or refuses a request, with the local mosque complying in either case.
Recently, it has been brought to my attention that a petition has been suggested to the UK Parliament to allow the ‘loud call to prayer (Adhān) in UK mosques’. It is qualified by suggesting that this should initially be undertaken experimentally in ‘highly Muslim populated areas.’ As much as I commend Muslims engaging with the democratic process, some thought, discussion and consultation should be taken before one embarks on an issue which concerns us all. These sorts of petitions lend support to the view that Muslims choose to live separately from non-Muslims and this, as it is sometimes argued, is because they want to make ‘enclaves’ and ‘no-go areas’ for non-Muslims. Recently, Ted Cantle’s paper discussed this very issue and he reported high levels of segregation which, he predicted, would continue to increase and be evident in the 2021 Census. Well intended, but ill-thought out petitions as above compound these concerns and gives credence to the accusations levelled against Muslims. The paper was then picked up by many media outlets including The Guardian.
As contributing citizens of the UK we may see this issue as a means to further integrate within our country; to feel confident and proud as British Muslims, true to one’s faith and country. However, we do not live in a vacuum and any action will have an equal and opposite reaction. Judging by what we have seen in the last few decades, arguably it is more than likely that such demands will do more damage than good.
I pose the following question in order to explore further, how would this be perceived by some? Perhaps some will see this as further ‘Islamification‘ of the UK and, by extension, Europe. The argument of a ‘creeping Shari’a‘, into a liberal society is already a well-tuned political tool to frighten people away from this great faith and pit communities against one another. Eventually, policy advisors and so-called ‘think-tanks’ would argue, as they have done, that Muslim communities are taking advantage of our liberal society with their continuous demands, which in being met are then further emboldening them to bring Islam more and more into the public sphere. The media picks up on these reports and sensationalises them to work up the average non-Muslim (who is nonetheless wiser about what Islam is and normative Muslim discourses) to demand from their governments that these so-called new ‘privileges’ are removed, and in the process curb any other future potential Muslim needs. In the battleground to win middle England over during election campaigns, such pressure leads to some mainstream politicians adopting anti-Muslim postures with promises of coming down hard on people who do not accept the British way, whatever that may be.
All in all – when we look at the bigger picture we can see our short-sightedness and lack of vision, for which we have suffered as a community for decades. In this case we are not seeing the wood or the trees.
So how does the Muslim community proceed? Well, let’s explore the issue of the Adhān itself. In the current climate, the procedure to adopt would be for the masjid to purchase a masjid transmitter and for each house to purchase a masjid receiver. In this way, not only can the Adhān be heard in the Muslim’s home but also any lectures or programmes held at the masjid. Furthermore, most masjid timetables are online, or one could take a picture on one’s phone of the timetable, and therefore we can become well-aware of prayer times in advance. In essence, our objective is achieved without necessarily drawing any unnecessary or suspicious attention towards the community.
It is key that we prioritise dealing with the pressing issues of our communities and find the right ways to engage publicly with other bodies including the government. And, when we do so, it should be done diligently through due process and in consultation.