On Sunday May 2nd, the Islamic Centre of Cambridge (ICC) became the first mosque in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region’s history to broadcast the athan (calls to prayer) over loudspeakers outside. According to the Cambridge By-Law No. 32- 04, the Municipal Council of the Corporation of the City of Cambridge has deemed that no person shall ring bells, blow horns, shout, make or permit unusual noises, or noises likely to disturb the inhabitants of the municipality. This, by default, has included the projection of the athan, but on May 1st, 2020, the ICC was given permission by the city to broadcast the athan for the duration of Ramadan.
Mosques all over Ontario have begun in the past several days to broadcast their athans over loud speakers that can be heard outside of the mosques. Reactions towards this have been mixed. There are members of the community who think that it is great move to not only support the Muslim community, but also that it serves as a peaceful sound to all those who can hear it. Other community members, however, have different opinions about it.
Ravi Hooda, a realtor and school council chair for the Macville Public School in Bolton City, tweeted in opposition to the athan being broadcasted in Brampton. It read: “What’s next? Separate lanes for camel & goat riders, allowing slaughter of animals at home in the name of sacrifice, bylaw requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents to appease the piece fools for votes.” He had received much backlash for his comments and was terminated from his position working for RE/MAX and was also removed from the school council. When speaking to CBC News about the affair, he said that his words were not out of animosity towards any ethnic or religious groups, but that his point was that “we shouldn’t be going back to the times where such means of communication was necessary”.
Not only was his tweet Islamophobic, but it drawed upon many stereotypes that Muslims face. It is evident that he attempted to base his xenophobia on the fact that the athan is a phenomena that should be best left in the past due to it being unnecessary nowadays. Technology has now been the most common way for people to keep track of their prayers and get to hear the call to prayer when the time comes.
With that being said, considering the athan to be a thing of the past would be a grave mistake. The athan serves two main functions. The first is to call people to prayer, and the second is to liven one’s spirituality and emotions when they hear it. There is a reason that the muazzin (the person who does the athan) is usually chosen based on the quality and beauty of his voice. People listen to the athan and enjoy the melodic sounds that profess the Greatness of God. They feel the reverberations and the power of it in their very hearts, and serves as a reminder for them that they are not alone. In this regard, it is a promotion of unity. It says to those that can hear that they are all united and that they all hear the same words regardless of what country they are in, what ethnicity they come from, or what language they speak.
Due to by-laws, the athan in non-Muslim countries is usually just done within the restrictions of mosques themselves for the Muslims present to hear, but hearing it outside presents Muslims with different emotions. The melody of it is by default mixed with the sound of birds, the sound of wind, and other sounds of nature that magnify the beauty of it.
Despite the fact that the mosques are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, community members were able to witness the first outdoor athan from their cars as they parked in the parking lot during sunset and made sure to film the historic event. People were tearing up, others were smiling, and emotions were most definitely elevated.
There is something very profound about hearing the athan in a place where it’s not permitted to be heard. One need only look to Al Hambra in Granada, Spain, which was once a palace complex for Muslim rulers and has now been preserved as a tourist site. It is now Spain’s most visited monument. Despite the fact that over 2 million people flock to Alhambra a year, and despite the great income that is generated from it on the basis of it being preserved Islamic architecture and culture, Muslims are not allowed to pray there. The athan is not permitted to be performed there. Money is being made as a result of Islamic history and culture, yet Muslims are not allowed to even rejoice in simple acts there, such as praying. Regardless of the plethora of space at the 35 acre complex, the only place where Muslims are permitted to pray are outside of the complex in the parking lot.
It is because of scenarios like this that make Muslims cherish being able to hear the athan out loud- especially from their own mosques. Especially during this time when Muslims are now unable to gather during the holy Ramadan nights to perform nightly Taraweeh prayers due to health safety, the broadcasted athans are a blessing to those who have craved for spiritual upliftment.
Regardless of the fact that the athan being allowed during Ramadan is most likely a by product of COVID-19, due to the fact that less people are prone to hearing it as they are isolating, it does not take away from the fact that it is a memorable time in our community’s history. It shows us that our municipal leaders support our endeavors and care for our well-being. But more than that, it shows us that even though we are unable to come together as a community physically in worship, we have the ability to feel united during this holy month through the unification calls of the athan.