An edict on prayers

Published : Sep 10, 2004 00:00 IST

An edict by the Nadwatul-Darul-Uloom advising Muslims against the excessive use of loudspeakers and the obstruction of public places for offering prayers sparks a debate in the community and also among Hindus.

THE Muslim community is in the thick of a debate on the use of loudspeakers for religious purposes and the blocking of roads for holding religious congregations. Whatever the result, it is bound to have an impact on the way both Muslims and Hindus conduct their religious affairs. For, Hindus too are known to hold night-long religious programmes such as akhand kirtans and jagrans, where loudspeakers are used. An edict by the Nadwatul-Darul-Uloom, a premier centre of Islamic studies based in Lucknow, in the first week of August sparked the debate. It advised Muslims against the excessive use of loudspeakers and obstruction of public places while offering prayers. The Nadwa, as the Nadwatul-Darul-Uloom is popularly known, issued the edict after a member of the community, Col. (retd.) M. Shamsi, enquired about the subject.

Col. Shamsi, who has been waging a battle against these practices for some time now, posed two specific queries: "What is the Shariat ruling on the rampant practice of offering Namaaz-e-Janaaza [prayer offered while carrying the dead] by blocking roads and stopping traffic to offer the Juma prayers?" "What is the Shariat ruling on sahari [food taken before fasting begins] announcements on loudspeakers during the month of Ramzan, as it disturbs those who have no concern with the month-long fasting or are sick?"

The edict reads: "If a place to offer the Namaaz-e-Janaaza is available elsewhere in the vicinity, prayer should be offered at that place. In case of dire need, and when there is no way out, the Namaaz may be offered on the road, but to cause inconvenience by blocking a thoroughfare is anyhow a wrongful act."

Replying to the second query, the Nadwa advised in these words: "Non-Muslims and sick persons should be given due consideration. If required, its use may be for a brief period only."

Although the edict is only an advice and not binding on Muslims, it carries a lot of weight by virtue of the respect the Nadwa commands. Many Muslims expressed the hope that the edict would go a long way in reforming some of the regressive practices in the community. Said Col. Shamsi: "During the month of Ramzan, loudspeakers start blaring from 2 a.m., directing Muslims to wake up, eat sahari and so on. Not only this, in the early hours when the rest of the world is sleeping, maulanas start delivering sermons through loudspeakers, unmindful of the inconvenience it causes to the people at large, including Muslims who may be sick or who might want to sleep."

He told this correspondent: "My query was about Namaaz-e-Janaaza only, but the Nadwa has also commented that blocking a thoroughfare is a wrongful act even if it is for religious purposes." He hoped Muslims would see reason and stop such practices.

To support his contention he quoted Maulana Mohammad Taqi Usmani, the chief justice of Shariat High Court in Pakistan, whose reformatory lectures have been published in India by Deoband, another respected Islamic centre. Said Col. Shamsi: "Maulana Usmani has written, `If your recitation disturbs sleep and peacefulness of any person then the act is wrong and unlawful. Recitation of the Koran on the loudspeaker when someone wants to sleep or rest or is sick is not proper'." He added that on the issue of obstructing roads, Maulana Usmani has said: "To offer namaaz at such a place which is a public passage is wrongful."

Begum Naseem Iqtedar, the only woman member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), thinks it is a good beginning. "Once during barawafat I was caught in a traffic jam because the road was blocked. It's a pity that Islam, which had come like a balm for everyone, is being distorted to cause inconvenience to others," she said. She was hopeful that even fundamentalists would have no objection to such sensible rulings because such practices are against the spirit of Islam. She said it was a good sign that no negative reaction had come so far from any section of the community.

Syed Shahabuddin, member of the AIMPLB, is of the view that "obstructing roads is wrong in principle, but there is also the problem of space and the municipal authorities must allot more space for building mosques. On the issue of loudspeakers, he said their use should not be allowed in principle. If it is used at all, the congregation can keep the volume low, he added.

The AIMPLB spokesman Dr. S.Q.R Ilyas said the Board, which had chalked out an action plan for reforms, would go a step ahead and carry forward a campaign to bring about further attitudinal changes among Muslims. "We are trying to bring about an awareness among community members about girls' right to inheritance, avoiding extravaganza at the time of weddings, giving mehr to the woman at the time of marriage, and giving women a right to agricultural property as well. Besides, we are also trying to take the arbitrariness out of the issue of talaq by making it mandatory for the boy to go for arbitration first by members from both sides, in order to resolve disputes, before actually going for talaq," he says.

The Muslim community may finally be taking the first few hesitant steps on the path of reforms, but will Hindus follow suit? Unlikely, if the reactions of outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are any indication. If Muslims obstruct roads for offering namaaz, Hindus too put up tents for marriages or festivities. Would the VHP advice Hindus not to block roads and stop using loudspeakers?

The VHP is only tentative in its approval. While it supports the edict from the Nadwa, it says that Hindus use roads for religious observances only "occasionally" and there was nothing wrong in it. "Using loudspeakers for namaaz every day, five times a day, and all 30 days of the month of Ramzan is not the same as Hindus doing it maybe once a year. On a routine basis it should not be done, but occasionally, it is OK. Even Muslims can do it occasionally, when there is a festival," says VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore.

Whether Muslims actually follow the Nadwa's advice or not, the edict has triggered a healthy debate among both Hindus and Muslims about practices that society at large does not approve of.

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