Egypt proposes unified call to prayer

The Egyptian government says it wants to unify the calls to prayer that air separately from thousands of mosque loudspeakers in the capital Cairo.

    Officials say that a unified call would eliminate confusion

    But not everyone is happy about the idea, as some Egyptians on Saturday criticised the proposal calling it un-Islamic.

    "We need one live voice prayer call from Cairo's 4000 mosques through a wireless network," Minister of Religious Endowment Mahmud Hamdi Zaqzuq said.

    Newspapers of opposition parties and religious conservatives writing in Islamist websites criticised the initiative as a step towards banning the dawn prayer.

    "I did not expect this fuss in the newspapers, magazines and the satellite television stations as if it was a doomsday," the minister told a news conference.

    "It is religiously legitimate ... that the city has one prayer call"

    Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa

    Egypt is a largely Muslim country of about 70 million people. Cairo, with a population of 16 million, is the Muslim world's most populous capital.

    Confusing calls

    Prayer calls are aired through loudspeakers of mosques five times a day. Mosques in the same neighbourhood in Cairo sometimes call Muslims to prayer two to three minutes apart, causing confusion among the worshippers.

    Zaqzuq, whose ministry is in charge of religious affairs, said the government has heard the complaints of Cairenes (inhabitants of Cairo).

    "Everyday I receive complaints from people about the loudspeakers and when I ask them to make official complaints, they say they were afraid of being accused of being infidels or acting against religion," Zaqzouq said.

    Zaqzuq defended the unified prayer call, which he said opponents considered a heresy. "In fact, the loudspeakers is heresy because Islam had been doing fine for 1,350 years without loudspeakers," he said.

    Islamic tradition

    The call to prayer is one of the first characteristics of the nascent religion in the 7th Century. The first person in the history of Islam to publicly call to prayer was an Abyssinian called Bilal on account of his good voice.

    Mosques in Turkey use a unified
    call to prayer

    Muslims are called to perform their duty by the human voice of a muadhin. In the old days, the muadhin would make the call to prayer from the mosque's minaret. With modern technology and sprawling cities, recordings of calls to prayer are played through loudspeakers

    Two of Egypt's top clerics said the initiative to unify the prayer call in the city did not violate Islamic laws or tenets since the aim was for the whole people to hear the call to prayer at the same time.

    Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa said in a statement issued on Saturday that some countries like Turkey had unified the prayer call in each city.

    Disorder

    "We have a kind of disorganisation and contradictions in the voices of the prayer callers that hurt the sentiments of the Muslims," former Mufti Nasr Farid Wasil wrote on Thursday in a newspaper run by the ruling National Democratic Party.

    "I did not expect this fuss in the newspapers, magazines and the satellite television stations as if it was a doomsday"

    Mahmud Hamdi Zaqzuq, Minister of Religious Endowment

    The initiative is expected to cost 1 million Egyptian pounds ($162,000; €132,000). Three experts are working on a plan, which they will present in a few days, the minister said.

    Zaqzuq said the process might be applied later in other cities of Egypt, which has about 90,000 mosques.

    Zaqzuq dismissed some opponents' criticism that the initiative was part of a US pressure on Egypt to carry out religious and educational reform.

    "The opponents say this initiative is an American one, as if every step of reform should come through instructions from America," Zaqzuq said.   

    Contributors on Islamist websites have labelled the project as "treason" and said its promoters were conspiring against Islam. One wrote that it could lead to a complete ban on prayer calls.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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