Following recent controversy surrounding the Muslim call to prayer (athaan) at the Zeenatul Islam Masjid, it seems that the City of Cape Town and the masjid could be looking at ways to protect the calls to prayer of all religions by making those calls exempt from similar noise complaints. In Ramadan, the City announced it would be investigating a single complaint by a Cape Town resident, which had been lodged with SAPS over the audio volume of the athaan. The case was registered as a “noise complaint’.
While a formal outcome of the investigation into the masjid’s call to prayer has not yet been established, both the Imam of Zeenatul Islam Masjid, Sheikh Muhammad Moerat and Mayco member for Community Services and Health, Councillor Zahid Badroodien say both parties will continue to discuss ways forward to address the issue, in line with current legislation.
However, Sheikh Moerat said that as things stand after the recent meeting with the City that took place on the 11th June, the masjid is not completely satisfied.
During the meeting, the City alluded to two sound tests being conducted that had conflicting results. The City of Cape Town reported to the mosque’s committee during the meeting that its own scientific test showed that the sound level of the Athaan fell within the accepted decibel measure as set out by the bylaw.
The second test – called a “reasonable person” test – led City officials to find that the athaan is “noise nuisance”.
This “reasonable person” test, in our view, is completely subjective and changing the terms of reference of the complaint amounts to a shifting the goal posts by the City of Cape Town.
Sheikh Moerat argues that the “reasonable person” test is subjective and that the entire process regarding the complaint is inappropriate.
“That [the reasonable persons test] is very much open ended and is subjective as far as we are concerned,” he told VOC Breakfast Beat.
“We understand that there is a law in place and that certain terminologies are being used within the structure of that law, but as far as the Muslims are concerned and where I’m concerned, it doesn’t fall in either of the two categories. It doesn’t fall into a ‘nuisance’ category or a ‘disturbance’ category – to me, it’s a divine call to prayer. All calls to worship shouldn’t fall into either of those categories,” said Sheikh Moerat.
Councillor Badroodien has stated that a policy unit has developed a new proposal, including what it regards as necessary to move the City forward in terms of promoting and supporting diversity through religious and cultural integration and understanding.
“A policy unit has put together a proposal with what needs to be included in terms of the way forward…they [sic] have proposed what needs to be included so that we are able to develop, support and promote a city that is culturally integrated and understanding of the diverse religions and cultures that make us Cape Town. So that process is underway,” said Badroodien.
Since news of the complaint broke, there has been unprecedented support from the public – including from people of all faiths – for the Zeenatul Islam Masjid to stand firm with the Athaan. An independent online petition in support of the mosque was signed by more than 100 000 people. A number of organisations and individuals – including senior members of the ANC, the mayor of Cape Town Dan Plato, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Mandla Mandela on behalf of the Mandela family and many local and international dignitaries have issued public messages of support for the mosque in the face of the complaint.
“The fact that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies even expressed its support to us, shows the impact of this issue,” said Moerat.
Badroodien indicated intent to, and support for, pursuing policy which would exempt all calls to prayer from noise complaints.
“We need to make exempt and protect all calls to prayer, not just church bells or the azhaan. So, for me, the way forward would be for officials to reach out to the mosque again to discuss the way forward in terms of addressing the current issue – in line with what is now termed as a noise nuisance,” said Badroodien.
Sheikh Moerat says that he is pleased with Badroodien’s take on the matter and will support him in his attempts to exclude calls to prayer from the by-laws which have led to the masjid’s azhaan being investigated.
“I’m glad that Dr Badroodien can say that there is progress being made with regards to looking at the by-laws. That is what we’d like to see happen – to exclude all calls to prayer from that particular by-law. We will support this motion through whatever process it’s going to take to get to the end result that we are seeking.”