Last week Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga and other cities in Ontario began granting all local mosques permission for the first time to broadcast the call to prayer called the Azan, over speakers at sunset every day during Ramadan for a maximum of five minutes. Municipalities mindful of the fact that Muslims are unable to get to their mosques as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown thought this was a good gesture.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie managed to pass a unanimous resolution amending the city noise bylaw that will legalize the blaring of loudspeakers at all Mississauga mosques.
Cities have suspended their Noise Control By-Law up to May 24 and by and large most people are too preoccupied with their changed circumstances brought about by COVID-19 to bother with protesting the Muslim call for prayer, but in cities like Mississauga and Brampton, there has been a swift backlash in the form of fierce online protests and petitions not to grant mosques permission to broadcast the Azan for several reasons. They fear that this could become a permanent and symbolic thing. If it was possible to congregate, hundreds would be out protesting outside Mississauga’s City Hall.
Mississauga resident Ram Subramaniam announced a plan to launch a constitutional challenge against the change of Mississauga’s noise laws.
Subramanian, who is part of the Peel Region group Keep Religion Out Of Peel Region Schools (KROOPS), is receiving plenty of monetary support for this cause through a Facebook page that has a growing number of followers.
According to a news report, lawyers are preparing to seek a constitutional challenge in the Ontario Courts of Justice. “This is not about religion or being against Islam. This is about the separation of religion and state and preventing any group trying to thrust their religion on others via loudspeakers that blare religious messages into the privacy of homes,” he said.
Those leading the online petitions believe that in the age of the internet, most Muslims have apps that remind them of the time they have to pray. The Muslims I know all use apps and none live close enough to their local mosque to hear the Azan.
But many of the residents who will be subjected to the Muslim call of prayer every evening belong to other faiths. Is that fair? Why stir up resentment over this issue and get people more wary about allowing mosques or other religious places of worship in their neighborhoods. I suspect that many non-Muslims living within earshot of mosques will be reminded of the need to move as soon as possible.
In places like Mississauga which is home to a large South Asian population, this controversy is the latest to divide people along religious lines.
I would have been one to support a kind gesture to any community if for example there was no other way to get a message across. If for example, the internet was down or if every mosque had 90 percent of its congregants living around it like is often the case in Indian cities, the use of loudspeakers to remind the faithful would be understandable.
It is unfortunate that a needless controversy has erupted during Ramadan and COVID-19.