August 14th, 2011 by Hafiz Noor Shams
Though a libertarian and in many ways individualistic in the sense that I am protective of my individual negative rights, I am highly conscious of the fact I live in a society. Even with these rights intact, there has to be a give and take, some kind of mutual and voluntary compromises.
The realization that we do not live as an island is doubly important in times when rights are unclear. The exercise of these unclear rights does create tension and ultimately bad blood in society. That is not a way to live by. This is especially so in a multicultural society where no certain way of life is necessarily taken for granted.
Yes, this about the call to prayer controversy in Penang. Although it happened it Penang, it has happened elsewhere in the past and it is really a case applicable nationwide, even elsewhere.
In Malaysia where everything done in the name of Islam is accepted by the conservatives as sacrosanct, criticism against the use of loudspeaker by mosques has been considered as an attack by Islam, at least by them. I do not think this can be seen separately from the Malay right narrative, where rightly or wrongly within local context, the idea of Malayness is seen as Islamic.
Noise (I use noise here without prejudice and only in a very general sense that it is a series of loud sound regardless of its human origin) is a complex issue as far as rights are concerned. On the default, I think I am happy to have the right of making noise stands as it own. It does seem to me like a negative liberty.
It is not a primary right I suppose but only a derived right, derived from freedom of expression. One perhaps could derive it from religious freedom but I tend to believe religious freedom itself is a derived right, and as far as the Islamic call to prayer in Malaysia is concerned, I think freedom of expression is more relevant than religious freedom. That does not mean religious freedom is being negated. I am simply stating that freedom of expression is more relevant. Sometimes, reiterating that in useful as an emphasis. I have found that typical readers read only to forget what they read in the previous sentence.
In any case, given the default position, there clearly is a problem with individual or organization like mosques using its right in early morning in a residential area, causing discomfort to others, especially for those who do not appreciate being effectively shouted at with a loudspeaker.
I personally have bad experience with mosques and call to prayer. My childhood home in Malaysia is surrounded by at least three large mosques, never mind the smaller ones dotting the neighborhood. During call to prayer, the three will seemingly engage in a competition with the loudest call will win the day.
This is very, highly annoying. Things are made worse when these mosques use loudspeakers and project their reading of the Koran or the actual prayer outward.
While the default position belongs to the mosques, it is much better for the general harmony of the neighborhood to not, at least, use the loudspeakers at every single chance these mosques have. Even with the right, voluntary compromise goes a long way in creating tolerating neighborhood. One does not what to live a neighborhood which bad blood prevails.
Respect, compromise and harmony may be a something-in-the-cloud or everything-and-nothing kind of approach. It sounds nice, but what exactly does it entail?
Well, I think it means mosques need to use their loudspeakers discriminately. Personally, I think the best is by turning the loudspeaker inward rather than outward. Realistically, use it only for actual call to prayer, and be extra mindful about its morning usage. Lower the volume by some notch, especially when there are oppositions. If there were none, the problem would not have existed in the first place.
Be as that may be, with the default case of right belonging to the mosque, freedom of expression and free speech is a two-way street. If the mosques insist in using its right, then criticism will be mounted. The mount of such criticism is also part of negative individual right. It is part of free speech.
So, if negative rights and liberties are adopted as the way forward by the mosques to justify their use of loudspeaker and projecting it outward to show its Islamic credential, they must face the criticism in the spirit of free society. Do not issue threat. Do not think that that criticism is some kind of unfair demand.
This goes with churches and temples as well.
In fact, I think it goes for all of us. Loud radio, loud TV, loud party, firecrackers, speaking into the phone loudly in the train, etc.
Just be mindful of your neighbors. Do not be obnoxious.
And I think that is reasonable.
p/s — while I am supportive of any move of reducing the use of loudspeakers by mosque, I do not support having a central authority telling local mosques what to do. That however is another issue that I will give it a pass right now.