KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — An MCA vice-president has urged the prime minister and religious authorities to use the present “azan” dispute to regulate the use of loudspeakers at all houses of worship.
Breaking MCA’s silence on the issue, Senator Gan Ping Sieu told The Malaysian Insider yesterday that setting clear guidelines would not be tantamount to questioning an individual’s right to worship in any faith but would help put to rest any future misunderstandings on such sensitive issues.
“It may be a good opportunity for the PM, the state muftis and other religious authorities to set certain guidelines to make it clear.
“It is not questioning a person’s right to worship or the fact that Islam is the country’s official religion but perhaps clearer guidelines would help to make it easier for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand one another better,” he said when contacted yesterday evening.
Gan, a deputy minister, is the first MCA leader to speak openly on the brewing controversy which purportedly involves a youth leader in the party.
The youth leader, a lawyer, had sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on December 20 last year, complaining that the “azan” (Muslim call to prayer) at a mosque near his residence in Kampung Kerinchi had reached an intolerable level for him.
The MCA man, who has remained incommunicado since the issue hit media headlines and is believed to have moved out of his residence, had suggested the authorities set specific guidelines to control the volume of the loudspeakers at mosques, adding that the “azan” often disturbed his sleep in the mornings.
Gan stressed that he was not defending the MCA man’s views on the matter, but added that it was unsurprising that the request had offended Muslims.
A group of Muslims from welfare group Pekida and Malay rights group Perkasa staged a protest outside Masjid al-Ikhlasiah in Kampung Kerinchi on Friday afternoon over the issue, calling for the MCA man to be arrested under the Internal Security Act for threatening national harmony.
Gan noted that before judging either party in the dispute, it was important to understand the context of the issue and not mistake the “azan” for a religious teaching.
“It is simple... the azan is the praising of Allah the Almighty and the holy prophet, it is the Muslim’s call to prayer. So it is quite understandable that if a non-Muslim asks for such praises to be lowered in volume, such a request could be misconstrued in a way that it is offensive.
“Similarly, if those from other faiths are held back in any way or told to tone down their religious practices or celebrations, they too would be offended. This is just human nature,” he said.
Gan pointed out that to some, the “azan” was considered “soothing to the ears”, much like hymns, choir songs, bells or drum beats were to those of other faiths.
“So across the faiths, they have a different manifestation of what worshipping God is like... I have come across cases where some Buddhist temples blare out their players and the nearby Muslims do not complain but the Chinese complain.
“So this is a matter of subjectivity. It means different things to different people,” he said.
Gan continued that it was important for those of other faiths to understand that the “azan” was not a religious teaching but a simple call for Muslims to prayer and was only aired for several minutes.
He added that the “azan” was often mistaken by non-Muslims with religious sermons recited inside the mosques, which are occasionally blared out on loudspeakers as well.
Gan said that many of his Muslim friends had informed him that such a practice was not encouraged in the Islamic faith.
“I was informed that in some places, perhaps some mosque committees, they overdo things... they blare out their ceramahs and their teachings and use the loudspeakers to broadcast their views.
“Perhaps this is what makes it difficult for the non-Muslims. In fact, some Muslims tell me that even they tell the mosques to lower the volumes,” he said.
He said that according to information obtained from Muslims, Islam urged its followers not to shout their praises but to pray in moderation and in a peaceful manner.
“I do not know how true this is so it is best that this is left to religious leaders to decide. But this is what I was told by Muslims themselves.
“Prayers should not be uttered in raised tones so as to maintain the solemnity of the prayer verses,” he said.
Gan added that, similarly, the burning of effigies with ill-intention was also frowned upon in religions.
During Friday’s protest, the group burned several effigies of the “azan” complainant.
“Whether this is considered an over-reaction, I shall leave it to the authorities to decide but I am sure Islam is a moderate faith and usually, any such overreaction is not encouraged by any faith,” he said.
Yesterday, The Malaysian Insider reported that the federal government had confirmed it had not instructed the mosque concerned to lower the volume of its “azan”.
Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, who is minister in the Prime Minister’s department in charge of religious affairs, admitted that the ministry had received a complaint letter from the “MCA man” but upon investigation, had found the complaint a “non-issue.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of unity affairs Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon told all parties in the dispute to remain calm as the matter was being addressed at the local level.
During their protest, the group of Muslims distributed the fax purportedly sent by the MCA member to PMO where he revealed that he has been a party member since 1998.
He also said that he has been living in Pantai Hill Park for five years and was roused in the mornings by the mosque’s call for prayers.
“Several months ago, I hear the sound from the mosque to be very loud until that it woke me every morning at 5.45am,” the letter read.
“I respect the position of Islam as the country’s official religion under the Federal Constitution but my right to sleep, rest and pray in peace should also be respected.
“I am of the view that loudspeakers in any house of worship of any religion should be controlled by the authorities through clear and scientific rules like the calculation of decibels, and should not flout the law.
“Like in my hometown of Seremban, the sounds from the mosque is softer and more controlled,” he continued.
It is understood that the man identified had once worked for a former MCA president who was also a Cabinet member.
The mosque concerned is situated near a new commercial development area called Bangsar South, and was first opened 30 years ago, while the lawyer only moved to the Malay-majority neighbourhood about five years ago.
Pantai Dalam used to be dominated by squatters and low-cost flats but has seen the development of luxury apartments and commercial property in recent years.
The Muslim call for prayer first became a political issue in 2008 when Selangor executive councillor Teresa Kok was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly asking a Puchong mosque to stop playing the azan over its loudspeaker.
Kok, who was released a week after her arrest, denied the allegation while the mosque’s committee members also came forward to defend the Selangor DAP chairman.