“The 20th century may have survivedthe terrifying consequences of our ownignorance and the ignorance of others.We may not be so lucky in the 21stcentury.”
—Voices from Down Under
On Tuesday April 10, 2018, Ghana’s minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovations, Prof Kwabena Frimpong Boateng,suggested that Muslims could announce the call to prayer through text message or WhatsApp. His suggestion has opened a floodgate of accusations from segments of Ghana’s Muslims community. Muslims’indignation at this suggestion isdoubtlessly understandable.However, the the minister’s comments do not deserve theinvectives they have attracted.
Let me start by saying that as Ghanaians, we must realise—and internalise—the fact that we live in this country with people of other faiths. In a century when religious differences have becomethe problems theyare notsupposed to be, we owe it to our collectivepeaceful coexistence to learn the art of putting ourselves in others’ shoes—even if those shoes donot neatly fit us.A little more understanding, a little more introspectioncaneventually makeevery shoe, our very own.
Prof Frimpong Boateng, is reported to have stated:
In the house of worship, why is it that the noise will (not) be limited to the house of worship…and again maybe from the mosque, why is it that time for prayer would not be transmitted with a text message or WhatsApp so the Imam will send WhatsApp message to everybody that the time for prayer is up so appear, …
As Muslims, we must see these comments from a myriad of angles such as the following: Prof Frimpong Boateng’spolitical portfolio as minister of environment and innovations;the fact that his comments were a response toa question and not an official policy statement or position;the fact that his comments were not exclusively directed at Muslims and, crucially, the fact that the minister is not a Muslim.
If we situate the minister’s comments within this ecology of facts, our displeasure, albeit founded, would be hugely moderated. Additionally,in doing so, we may come to realise that his comments, despite being somewhat unguarded, might in fact bode glad tidings for our national progress.
First,why do we expect a non-Muslim to know the Islamic rulings on the Adhaan, the Muslim call to prayer?We can rightly expect the minister to have consultedrelevant Islamic authorities before attempting to issue a fatwa on Muslims’ behalf. Yet we can also understand that the minister was only responding to a question, and thus made those comments in the heat of the moment.
Indeed, the minister ought to have known better how to control the heat, and how to temper responsibility with caution.Yet again, who amongst us does not act on impulse sometimes?We all do, even if the doer is a minister or a professor.
To many, it is the professorship of the minister that makes his blunder so glaring. To people like this Facebook user, the fact that the minister is a professor is a strong reason why he deserves no mercy.
But this argument is hinged on a different kind of ignorance. It only makes sense when placed under the microscope ofanormalised stupidity—one that makes us believe that a professor must have four eyes, a hundred hearts and a thousand brains.
Professors are also human beings. Professors, too, can be ignorant and they too can goof sometimes. And like you and I, they too sometimes regret their previous actions and comments. Some do apologise,others do not. Still, they too deserve some humanity.
But Professor Frimpong Boateng deserves much more understanding from Muslims. Under Islamic jurisprudence, a Muslim’s inadvertent act of ignorance is mostly ignored, understood or even excused sometimes. As a non-Muslim, the minister’s case may not neatly fit this Islamic privilege. Yet, might we still accord our renowned professor some of the privilege Allah has accorded us?
As Muslims, we rightly disagree with the minister’s Adhaan suggestion. But that should not prevent us from agreeing with him on his other suggestions. As Environment and Innovations minister, we may mark him down on this innovative idea about the call to prayer. But that should not prevent us from marking him as commendable on his advice on the need to reduce noise pollution in the environment.
Noise has become a constant nuisance in Ghana.To say that the mosque can be a source of noise might be heavy on the hearts of Muslims. But it needs not be. We must understand that like beauty (or lack thereof), which they say lies in the eyes of the beholder, noise is also to the ear that hears it as such. To us, the call to prayer is simply what it is, a call to prayer. But to fellow Ghanaians who are not Muslims, we must understand why our call to prayer is “noise”.
Even here the minister’s calls for the reduction of noise pollution were not directed at mosques and Muslims alone. I stand to be corrected, but the first sentence in his comments quoted above suggests that he was referring to all places of worship, not just to Muslims’.Compared to mosques, there aremuch more churches in Ghana where some Christians make a lot of “noise”.
Beside this, Muslims donot usually run drinking spots where loud “ungodly”music is a part of the business plan. Neitherdo Muslims force unsolicited “Jesus Loves Yous” on unsuspecting passengers in our public transport. Muslims do not walk behind people’sbedroom windows at dawn to force bible quotations down their throat,hurting their sleep with loud “Praise the Lords”.
Apart from “Awure” (wedding) events which sometimes rid our Zongos (Muslim dominated communities) of sanity,Muslims’main “problem” is that some of us make so much “noise” with the Adhaan—from dawnto dusk, all in the name of Islam, hurting the legitimate feelings of our non-Muslim fellow Ghanaians in the process. Sadly, some Muslims still insist that five mosques crowded in a 200-metre radius must alluse megaphones to call to prayer.
In fact, even Islam is innocent of that act. Did we know that? The minister’s obvious ignoranceand lack of introspection is not an excuse for our own ignorance and lackof introspection. At least the minister is not a Muslim. What about you, dear enraged Muslim? Justice is inscribed in Islam, and it requires that we treat people according to their condition, and not go beyond the limits set by Islamic law.
Space does not permit a detailed religious exegesis on the Adhaan. But we must remember that using megaphones to call to prayer is notanobligatory requirement of Islam. What is an obligatory act of worship is theactual call to prayer.Even here, this obligation is Fard Kifaayah(communal obligation) as opposed to Fard Ayn (individual obligation).
What this means is thatif the Adhaan is given in a town and the people can hear it, then the communal obligation has been discharged and there is no need for other individual congregations to have theirown Adhaan, especially with loud speakers.This is the position favoured by medieval scholars like Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and Shaikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiya, and contemporary scholars like Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen.
Indeed, in some Muslim dominated countries like Turkey, the Adhaan is concurrently announced through a centralized system across the major mosques of respective cities.
The minister in his most unguarded moment would never suggest to Muslims to consider stopping the call to prayer with our voice and use text message or WhatsApp instead—he would first have to innovatively change all Muslims in Ghana into mobile phones, and download WhatsApp unto our new smart souls!
So, instead of hurling emotionally-charged invectives at the minister, we could use his comments as an invitation to educate him and others about the Adhaan (and Islam). But importantly, we may use his comments as an opportunity to improve upon our relationship with non-Muslims who live close to our mosques, and to have meaningful discussions about the problem of noise pollution generally.
Indeed, research has shown that when religious indicators are present or strong in conflicts, negotiated settlements become harder to achieve. Additionally, the 21st century has been made to be the century of religious conflicts, even if erroneously so. We owe it to our collective peaceful national coexistence toavoid these trappings of the century.
We must shun ignorance, even in responding others’ ignorance. These are difficult times indeed.
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