Azaan aside, Sonu Nigam deserves praise for the noise

Masarat Daud
Masarat DaudApr 19, 2017 | 15:31

Azaan aside, Sonu Nigam deserves praise for the noise

When a celebrity trends on social media, the first thought usually is: have they died? The next likely scenario is a PR fiasco. The latter was the case with Sonu Nigam, who tweeted recently that being a non-Muslim, he finds it unreasonable to tolerate the Muslim Azaan (call to prayer) disrupting his sleep.

His tweets, which addressed noise generated by all religious events were taken as a stab at the Muslim community because of his reference to Azaan. Since religion is the current flavor of the nation, it is easy to see how sides were formed and armchair activists were deployed.

I won't indulge in the silliness of Nigam's follow-up tweets on Prophet Mohammad "making" Islam and the absence of electricity during seventh century de-legitimising the use of technology in 2017 - there is always Twitter for that.

The response to his tweets expose the failure in having a lucid discussion on anything religious. The current toxic climate created by those propagating religious nationalism by repressing minority groups has created an atmosphere of fear.

sonu-small_041717025_041917024646.jpgThe question it raises is an important conversation we need to have as a society. Photo: IndiaToday

It also fuels the identity trope giving it the appearance of an attack threatening the identity of a community. Unfortunately, this has been true of the Muslim communities where this has created intolerance for discussion on reforms since it is viewed as unwelcome disruption by those who do not respect or understand their beliefs.

A fine example of this is the instant triple talaq discussion where instead of understanding it from a women's rights perspective, it is viewed by many as a loss of identity and a leeway into further meddling by the state.

When Nigam tweeted, the first response seemed to be the grabbing of the keywords and turning it into an anti-Muslim tweet. With restrain and objectivity, it is easy to see that it is not a Hindu versus Muslim issue but a problem that is a legitimate concern for all of us: the violation of noise levels in the name of a public event.

News reports last year mentioned that "20dB loss in hearing among urbanites is normal". The impact of noise pollution is underrated - it is directly responsible for higher cases of hypertension, anxiety and panic attacks, and even heart disease.

If we remove the dramatic tweets that Nigam dropped on us, the question it raises is an important conversation we need to have as a society. I know of numerous people who have complained of high noise levels over many years; stories of many moving homes to escape blaring loudspeakers on most places of worship and processions; stories of the elderly suffering because of noise pollution and worse, the well-being of those constantly surrounded by this intense level of noise on a daily basis.

The problem with sensationalizing and cornering a particular religion is that it drives the possibility of a rational conversation to a dead-end. When a particular community is feeling threatened, it is impossible to have a conversation on reforms.

Instead of viewing it as the concern that it is - noise pollution - it morphs into one about the erasure of Islam in the religious public space.

Instead of pointing fingers at Muslims, the question is: what does this say about the quality of discourse in the country where instead of engaging with a particular community, it sends everyone on defence of something that needs revision?

In countries like the UK where there are stricter limits on noise levels, there are no loud speakers on mosques. People use apps that play the Azaan when the time is due.

One of our relatives has a radio at home that is linked to the local mosque and the volume is adjusted to a personal preference. During the Azaan, the radio at home plays the same in the house.

The London Central Mosque (and many other mosques globally) publish monthly prayer timings; I have one printed out each month and stuck on my board in the study room. Point is, loudspeakers are not the only solution. There are many other ways to receive the reminders to pray.

In Islam, there is great emphasis on being kind to our neighbors. We are raised with stories and values on kindness to those around us-humans and animals alike.

In an authentic hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammad) recorded by Bukhari, his wife Aisha is recorded to have said that "so frequently did Gabriel advise him to be kind to neighbours that I thought that he would give them a share in one's inheritance."

There is no rule set in stone where Muslims are unable to revise their contribution to the public noise levels. However, this has to be reciprocated with an engagement plan that covers other religious and public events too. This is also a good reminder that fear-mongering and demonising communities is counterproductive to positive change.

Finally, a big question that this incident brings to the fore: the attempt to remove religion from the public space is fraught with the current government's religious ambitions and the nation's forward-looking development ambition. How this incongruous divide will be bridged, if ever, is the question.

Despite the ill-written tweet, we can thank Sonu Nigam for initiating this discussion widely.

Last updated: April 19, 2017 | 20:11
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