We are all in need of a little more respect for each other.
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First let me explain a few things.
Azan is a call to prayer that is done five times a day, according to the five obligatory prayer times that Muslims are supposed to perform. In the olden days when there were no speakers, it was called from the top of a minaret, so that more people could hear it. These days the minaret would bear the loudspeakers.
The prayer times are set according to the position of the sun throughout the day. It starts with the break of dawn and finishes when there is total absence of sunshine. The time varies throughout the year in accordance to the position of the earth in relation to the sun.
Azan is not done to show off how faithful we are, and not done because we are afraid of losing our faith. It is a medium to call for prayers, with specific words glorifying God, acknowledging Prophet Muhammad and call to succeed in life.
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We have lived together in this country for so many years yet there still are people who could not tolerate differences in our daily needs. Even worse, it is sad that it seems like there are more intolerance these days than there ever was before.
Before someone comes along and say, “Easy for you, you are a Muslim and you like the loud azan. What about the rest of us?” let me tell you about my own story.
I live in between two houses of Buddhists. They burn their joss sticks and prayer papers everyday. The thing about burning is, the papers fly into other houses, and yes, everyday I would find the debris in my porch. MY porch.
You see, I don’t have kids who would play in the porch, no husband who would make all sorts of mechanics or carpentering in the porch, and my car doesn’t leak oil. So my porch is supposed to be clean. But no. I could see rubbish strewn all over my porch every single day, and they are NOT mine.
What do I do? Well, I’d sweep off all the rubbish and debris that obviously came from my neighbour’s house, and put them in MY own dustbin, not theirs. Why? Because I know they need to perform their worship, that it makes them happy, and perhaps will make them nice people too. So what if some rubbish happen to be carried into my own porch by the wind?
That does not include the smell of the smoke coming from both houses. They drift into my nose every morning and cause me to sneeze, and in worse days, cough, as I have sensitive nose and airways. I really love fresh air and I don’t get that because of the daily, early morning burning. Did I shout offensive words at them? No. Because they are fulfilling their spiritual needs, the way I fulfil mine.
I lived in Dublin many years ago and there were many churches in the city. On Sunday mornings, the bells would start clanging loudly to call the Catholics to the churches for their congregation. I had no reason to complain, and believe me, none of my friends who still stay over there had the reason to complain. They went on with their lives and have their Sunday morning sleep-ins despite all the bells clanging left right and center.
If I stay in India, let’s say in an area where there are many Hindu temples, I’m pretty sure I’d hear their bells ringing everyday, from early morning. Their people will be chanting in prayers and the crowd may be large. But does that give me the rights to complain?
The thing is, tolerance is what we decide to tolerate. There are so many other annoying, disturbing things in our daily lives that we chose to tolerate but why are we picky when it comes to religion? Just because there are some pseudo-religious people out there who act like jerks, or who are actual jerks, does not mean every faithful person is like that.
For example, our neighbours dogs. Some are well behaved but some bark at random things at random times, even in the wee hours of the morning or in the middle of the night. You might argue, dogs can’t control themselves but human beings should be able to think. But you see, if the dogs are disturbing the neighbours then why can’t the owner SELL the dogs? It’s under their control, right?
But no. We don’t tell our neighbours to sell their dogs. Most of the time we don’t even tell them that their barks has annoyed us, disturb us from studying, from sleeping, wake our babies up when they have just fallen asleep. Why? Because we chose to tolerate their barks, our neighbours love their dogs, and we love our neighbours!
Another example, people staying near a busy main road, or a hospital. I’m pretty sure many people of all race and religion stay in a noisy area, where the traffic is busy from 6am to 10pm. The grounds and buildings would shake if large lorries pass by, ambulances pass by with their sirens every five minutes. All the sounds and bustling could have woken any sleeping babies up, and disturb any sick person.
I did live like that for one year, then I moved to a quieter place but with joss sticks burning around me every morning.
Why did we choose to tolerate that situation? Nobody posted on their Facebook walls, swearing about how noisy the lorries were. Many of those lorries did NOT respect the rule that they can’t use the city main roads during rush hours anyway, but nobody gave a care. Why?
Because we chose to understand that perhaps their journey is necessary. The ambulances need to be loud. The cars need to leave early for work.
So if you could respect people’s need for money, why can’t you respect people’s need for spiritual fulfilment?
Maybe our society is not as spiritual as we were before. Let me say that spirituality is a lot like love, you can only understand it if you have experienced it. It is such a sensitive issue because for many people, spirituality and/or faith is closer to our hearts than our own parents, our own children. Therefore, lack of respect from others hurt even more than seeing our kids fall from a swing.
It doesn’t hurt to pay attention to each other’s feelings once in a while, and respect (or even celebrate) our differences. We ALL have practices, habits or even pets that would have intruded our neighbour’s lives, so it’s worth considering some respect and tolerance.
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I wouldn’t say that there is no way around it. I know that it some places the azan sound louder than other areas. Like my housing area, I can’t hear any, or on the days that it’s audible, it’s very faint. Back in my kampung, I could hear azan from 13 mosques, but it’s all fine because we’re all Muslims.
I would suggest that if the are has more non Muslim than Muslim population, perhaps they would want to turn down the volume a little, especially in the morning. Or maybe shorten the duration of the azan, keeping is simple without melody, just enough to call Muslims to prayer. In those areas, maybe you’d want to keep the morning azan once rather than twice, as it is true, some people may have insomnia, or unwell, or young babies who are light sleepers.
I would also suggest the imams to switch off the loudspeakers outside the mosques when they start praying (especially in the non-Muslim majority areas). The short azan may be tolerable enough but to read long verses of Quran very loudly in the morning for the whole housing area to hear may not be acceptable for many.
You might say that the azan and Quranic verses would bring peace to our hearts. Yes, it is, for us Muslims, and some religious people of other faiths. But not for many other non-Muslims. They don’t understand it, and for them it’s all noise. In order to live along peacefully together, we need to give up some things, and the rest need to give up some too.
If the mosque is in an all Muslim or Muslim majority area, it’s really up to the community and the mosque itself.
Discussing peacefully is obviously better than swearing at the whole Muslim population on Facebook, isn’t it? Such an obnoxious behaviour only reflects your upbringing and/or your inner peace (or lack of it), if one day you decide to show off your disrespectful side.
Dear Muslims, the most important message that I want to share is please, PLEASE answer that call to prayer. Please answer that azan. Wake up early, drive to the masjid, pray in congregation. The reason for the increasingly controversial azan is to call us to prayer. So what is the point of fighting for it, when we don’t answer it?
Be thankful of what we have. Our Muslim brothers in the west do not have this privilege of calling for prayers to the community, they could only spread the azan inside their mosques. Being thankful is answering that call to prayer and come in congregation to the masjid. As we all believe, Allah will take back whatever we aren’t thankful for, so let us show our gratitude to Him by answering this call to prayer.
As much as we want them to respect us, we need to respect them, and respect ourselves. Be fair, be kind, be understanding. If we believe that Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to mankind, then let’s be merciful. Let’s live up to it.