Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Plans to reduce Cairo's overendowment of prayer calls

Mubarak's agenda:

The cacophony of the call to prayer, one of the five required daily of orthodox Sunni Muslims, is about to end, if the government of President Hosni Mubarak succeeds in an ambitious electronic project unveiled Sunday. Declaring the different voices, starting times and volumes an unattractive "randomness," the Ministry of Religious Endowments signed a contract with a state firm to centralize the call to prayer by transmitting the voice of a single muezzin simultaneously to all the city's mosques.
One imam's opposing view:

Ragab Zaqi, a blind imam at a mosque on the east bank of the Nile, is having none of it. He acknowledged, as the government has claimed, that there is no doctrinal prohibition against the simultaneous muezzin idea. But in his view, it runs counter to the spirit of Islam. "Islam urges people to compete to give the call to prayer. This seals the door for many," he said in an interview. ... Zaqi said he suspects the plan foreshadows possible deeper interference in religious affairs, such as handing out identical sermons. "If we are silent on this, more may come," he said.
There's a hidden irony. The ummah, the idea of the single religious community that is also the state, is a highly valued aspect of Islam. Restoration of the ummah, or Caliphate, is a goal of many and some, like the Islamic republics, claim to be pursuing that ideal. Islamic republics, I note, do not foster a competition of views.

My personal preference: Randomness is attractive and spiritually uplifting. The multitude of voices is, too. What is not attractive is the use of amplifiers or other means of force. Nor is it attractive for the government to require that there be one state-provided voice.

Competition of voices: good. Competition of volume: bad.

Want to increase the number of faithful? There's an ongoing debate whether a Catholic (catholic?) or sectarian approach works best. Which is best? One universal voice, or a Babel of voices?

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