Saudi Arabia’s Islamic affairs minister is defending a contentious order restricting the volume of mosque loudspeakers, saying it was prompted by complaints about excessive noise.
In a major policy last week in a country home to the holiest Muslim sites, the Islamic affairs ministry said the speakers should be set at no more than one-third of their maximum volume.
The order, which also limited the use of loudspeakers mainly to issue the call to prayer rather than broadcasting full sermons, triggered a conservative backlash on social media.
— #فيصل_الحارثي🇸🇦 (@faisal_messi_10) June 1, 2021
Translation: Where is the disturbance in this! It brings nothing but peace and comfort. Give us back loudspeakers in mosques.
Islamic Affairs Minister Abdullatif al-Sheikh said on Monday the order was in response to citizens’ complaints that the loud volume was disturbing children as well as the elderly.
“Those who want to pray do not need to wait for … the imam’s” call to prayer, al-Sheikh said in a video published by state television.
“They should be at the mosque beforehand,” he added.
Several television channels also broadcast prayers and Quran recitals, Sheikh said, suggesting the loudspeakers served a limited purpose.
In a country home to tens of thousands of mosques, many welcomed the move to reduce the decibel levels.
But the decision also stirred resentment on social media, with a hashtag calling for the banning of loud music in restaurants and cafes gaining traction.
Sheikh said criticism of the policy was being spread by “enemies of the kingdom” who “want to stir public opinion”.
The policy follows de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s sweeping liberalisation drive, which has pushed a new era of openness in parallel with what observers call a de-emphasis on religion.
The young prince has eased social restrictions in the ultra-conservative kingdom, lifting decades-long bans on cinemas and women driving while allowing gender-mixed attendance at music concerts and sporting events.
The relaxed social norms have been welcomed by many Saudis, two-thirds of whom are under 30, while riling ultra-conservatives.
Saudi Arabia has clipped the powers of its religious police, who once elicited widespread fear, chasing men and women out of malls to pray and berating anyone seen mingling with the opposite sex.
Prince Mohammed has promised a “moderate” Saudi Arabia as he attempts to break with its austere image, while simultaneously cracking down vigorously on dissent.
Over the past three years, the kingdom has arrested dozens of women activists, clerics, journalists as well as royal family members.
An unclassified US intelligence report concluded Prince Mohammed approved of and likely ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who wrote critically of the crown prince and his policies, was murdered by a team of Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His dismembered body has never been recovered.