Following an uproar about religious tolerance on social media since the weekend, the City of Cape Town has confirmed it will be moving to review by-laws , after a complaint deemed the athaan a “noise nuisance”. The historic Zeenatul Islam Masjid in District Six issued a statement on Saturday, following the public outcry over one complaint by a resident.
The City’s Mayco member for community services and health Zahid Badroedien received backlash from the community for defending the City’s response, after many felt the issue should have been dismissed.
Badroedien said it was first brought to his attention through a screengrab which had gone viral and noted that the City was legally obligated to act because it was lodged as an affidavit with the police.
“I’ve been following the social media posts, both on Facebook and on Twitter, and I’ve engaged with a lot of people. Essentially what the problem here is that the understanding of the process is not correct. Once an affidavit is lodged at the South African Police Service, the City has a legal responsibility and is legally compelled to – according to the Environmental Conservation act in the Western Cape Regulations Act – to investigate this affidavit; which is then regarded, according to the regulations, as a noise disturbance.”
Veteran journalist Gasant Abarder engaged in a heated online discussion with Badroedien, disputing the City’s response. Abarder, however, had a change of heart, acknowledging the City’s move.
“My initial response was anger…why was the City even entertaining this? But then on further explanation, I now understand the City is meeting at large to have a look at this. I and a lot of Muslims regard the terming of the athaan as a noise as an insult. At what point do we make a distinction from the noise from a nightclub, a church bell or a horn from a synagogue from the athaan?”
Abarder pointed out that the majority of those who came out in support of the masjid are from other religions.
“The majority of people supporting the call to prayer has been people from other faiths, and that’s been very encouraging. There’s an appetite to protect our places of worship. Whoever conceived this by-law might not have considered the consequences it would have further down the line.”
In a statement over the weekend, the masjid said that no call to prayer can be considered as “noise” and highlighted that it will be engaging to have the by-law reviewed.
“This masjid will be embarking on a path to engage the City of Cape Town to review its by-law that deals with noise pollution. The masjid believes this is significant not only for the Muslim community but all faith communities of Cape Town at large,” it stated.
Badoredien noted that the City will be moving to amend the Street, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances by-law.
“This is not a government process yet, its an internal party process, which we now need to expedite. The National Act gives life to the Western Cape Regulations and the by-law. The by-law isn’t exclusive in its description of ‘noise nuisance.’ We need to be able to make amendments to the National Act which speaks then to the regulations in all provinces.”
Abarder said he will be starting a petition to strengthen the motion for caucus action to exclude calls to prayer from the Noise Regulations by-law. He noted that it will be called “Friends of the Zeenatul Islam Masjid” and hopes to garner as many signatures as possible.
“I want people of all faiths to sign this petition in support of what Councillor Zahid Badroedien (and his colleagues) are doing to review the by-law. We want to support and strengthen his hand and we don’t want to get into an adversarial realm. We’ll put it (the petition) online where it is accessible and we are going to ask people from all over South Africa and even the world to (support) it.”
Badroedien went on to explain that steps are being taken to ease the tension within the community.
“I want to make it clear, at no point had the City requested that the masjid silence the athaan. The Mayor (Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato) has asked that we reach out to the mosque within this week so that we’re able to reassure them not only are we mindful but we also deeply respectful of the role of the athaan plays within that community.”
Similarly to the procedure followed at Masjidu Sauligeen in Strandfontein in December last year, Badroedien explained that the sound levels will be tested and an agreement is expected to be reached between authorities and the complainant.
“The level of the athaan will be measured in terms of decibels because that is the first step of the legislation. If the investigation shows that it’s below seven decibels, then it is not (considered) a noise disturbance. And we will then continue the conversation with the complainantt so as to encourage them to be more accepting (of) the community they moved into.”
The masjid and City are expected to hold talks after Ramadaan and the athaan will continue to be broadcasted.