The Allahabad high court has held that “azaan” (the call to ritual prayer in Islam) can be recited from the minarets of mosques by human voice only and without the use of any amplifying device or loudspeaker.
The court added that such recitation by human voice cannot be hindered under the pretext that it violates the guidelines issued by the state government to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pronouncing the judgment on Friday, the court also held that “azaan” may be an essential part of Islam but its recitation through a loudspeaker or other amplifying device cannot be said to be an integral part of the religion and warranting protection of the fundamental right enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution (right to religious freedom), which even otherwise is subject to public order, morality and health, and other provisions of the Constitution. Thus, under no circumstances can sound-amplifying devices be permitted to be used between 10pm and 6am by the district administration.
“It cannot be said that a citizen should be coerced to hear anything which he does not like or which he does not require since it amounts to taking away the fundamental right of the other person,” the court further observed.
Disposing of a PIL filed by Ghazipur BSP MP Afzal Ansari and others, a division bench comprising Justice Shashi Kant Gupta and Justice Ajit Kumar observed, “Traditionally, and according to the religious order, ‘ azaan ’ has be to recited by the imam, or the person in charge of mosques, through their own voice.”
“Right to religion by no stretch of the imagination ought to be practised, professed and propagated saying that a microphone has become an essential part of religion. No one has got the right to make other persons captive listeners. One cannot disturb others’ basic human rights and fundamental rights. Use of loudspeakers can cause hearing loss, disturbance of sleep, interference with communication, annoyance, etc., and other diseases. Right to sleep is not only a fundamental right but it is to be conceded to be a basic human right,” the court observed.
Giving this judgment, the court directed the Allahabad high court registrar-general to forward a copy of the judgment to the UP chief secretary for onward circulation to all district magistrates in the state to ensure compliance.
In the PIL, Ansari had requested the court to direct the Ghazipur administration to permit the recitation of azaan by only one person from mosques as it does not violate the guidelines issued to contain Covid-19.
Similarly, former Union law minister Salman Khurshid had also written a letter to the high court with the same request for the public of Farukkhabad and Hathras, which too was heard as a PIL with this matter.
It was pleaded that the pronouncement of “azaan” was not a congregational practice but simply an act of recitation by a single individual calling the believer to offer namaz in their homes and, therefore, did not violate any condition of the prevailing lockdown.
It was also pleaded that on the eve of Ramzan — April 24, 2020 — the local administration, under the supervision of the Ghazipur district magistrate, began restraining all mosques within the district from reciting the azaan. Several people complained that the police were using force to implement this illegal and arbitrary prohibition.
It was submitted that the ban on “azaan” through amplifying devices was violative of the fundamental right of a citizen as “azaan” is an essential religious practice and for the welfare of religious community.
However, the state government said in its counter-affidavit that since March 24, when the lockdown was announced, no religious activity was being carried out at any religious place. Also, loudspeakers are not being used for any religious purpose by temples, mosques, gurdwaras, etc.
Referring to the guidelines issued by the government, it was stated that the new guidelines provide that all religious places of worship shall be closed to the public and religious congregations are strictly prohibited.
Replying to the contentions of the counsel for the petitioners, the court observed, “The counsel for the petitioner has not been able to explain why ‘azaan’ cannot be offered without the use of sound-amplifying devices. It will not be out of place to mention that in the past, during the old days when the loudspeaker was not invented, ‘azaan’ used to be given by human voice. The use of a microphone is a practice developed by someone and not by the Prophet or his main disciples, and which was not there in the past, and that the microphone is of recent origin and, accordingly, it could not be said that the use of a microphone and loudspeaker is an essential and integral part of ‘azaan’.”
However, the court directed that if any application is filed for the use of a loudspeaker before concerned authorities, that may be dealt with by the authorities concerned in accordance with the law, including noise pollution rules.