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Morocco: How Loud Is Too Loud?

Sshh, minister tells muezzins, you’ll wake the tourists

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Apr 21, 2008

A Moroccan minister has provoked uproar by suggesting that, to avoid waking tourists, muezzins should make less noise when calling the faithful to prayer at dawn.

Nouzha Skalli, the 57-year-old family minister, called for a cut in the volume of loudspeakers amplifying the chant of the muezzins. She also suggested that the call to prayer, a daily ritual all over the Muslim world, be truncated.

Radical Islamists have mounted a noisy campaign against her, some of them challenging her right to a government job, given that she is a woman.

“This minister is determined to attack Muslims and Islam,” said Sidi Sliman, an imam.

Others have praised her initiative, arguing that children suffer as much as tourists from being woken at dawn by the muezzins.

Skalli, a well-known feminist, dismissed the fuss as a “hateful campaign by people irritated by my fight for women’s rights”. She went on: “They are spreading false rumours by suggesting that I want to ban the dawn call to prayer altogether.”

The call to prayer is a tradition dating back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad, when the first muezzin walked through the streets to summon the faithful to prayer.

Muezzins later took to perching in minarets. The job was often given to the blind, who could not peer into people’s inner courtyards.

The rumpus erupted after Skalli used a ministerial meeting on technical aspects of mosque construction to ask whether there was any legal limit on the decibels generated by hundreds of muezzins. She added: “It would be reasonable to regulate it because many mosques are located near tourist zones.” Morocco attracted more than 7m foreign visitors last year and wants to boost that figure to 10m by 2010.

The country’s highest religious body has asked muezzins to keep the volume down near hospitals and in nonMuslim districts. But since that edict was issued two years ago, it has been largely ignored.

Some have sprung to Skalli’s defence. Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of a weekly Francophone newspaper, warned that children’s sleep was being disturbed by wailing muezzins.

“Why don’t people protest?” he asked. “Because they are afraid of being stigmatised as bad Muslims. To mention the muezzins’ decibels is to call into question the prayer itself and even Islam.”

Sshh, minister tells muezzins, you’ll wake the tourists

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