Kind Hearts and Minarets

Recently, I was told about the Anglican bishop of Oxford who said that a local mosque ought to be able to sound the call to prayer on Fridays and the question was asked whether this is something we should approve of.

At first glance, the answer seemed to me to be ‘yes’. After all, we live in a country which – the established Church notwithstanding – does not favour one religion over another. Christian churches have the right to ring their bells every Sunday, so surely mosques ought to have the right to make their call on Fridays.

However, as I was mulling over this issue the other day, I began to wonder whether I was not approaching it from the wrong angle, that is to say, from the point of view of the country, instead of the community.

According to the national centred view, the basis on which we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the mosque comes from the top, that is, from the Government of the day. Thus, if the Government believes it right and fair that mosques should be afforded the same right as churches, then so they must.

But is it really right and fair that the Government should have this final say? Surely the better course would be for it to delegate (so far as is reasonably possible) all local decisions to local authorities; including the issue of how to deal with the transmission of sounds that are liable to affect the community.

Therefore, if the community is likely to be disturbed by the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, it is right and fair that the local authority has the right to say ‘no’ to it even if the Government believes the reverse.

But what about the Muslims themselves? I would suggest that in this matter, the principal of fairness lies with the community (represented by the local authority) and not with the particular group within that community. If it were otherwise, particular groups would simply end up doing their own thing to the detriment of all.

For the above reason, while I respect the Bishop of Oxford’s chosen stance, I think that not only may one disagree with the right of mosques to broadcast their call to prayer, but one may do so and – far from being unfair – actually be fair for one is, of course, a member of the community that will be affected by the broadcast were it to take place.

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