Call to Prayer in Oxford
In the red corner are the residents, for whom the proposal to issue a prayer call is ‘very un-neighbourly’ (isn’t that putting nicely?); and in the blue corner is the Central Mosque, which asserts that because churches ring their bells, ‘Muslims also have the right to summon worshippers’.
The framing of this request in terms of ‘rights’ is significant, and will probably ultimately lead to the invocation of the EU Charter which Mr Blair incorporated into UK law. And this will be an interesting battle because Muslims are not being denied their right to worship since the Adhan does not constitute an act of worship. And then one must balance the asserted ‘right’ to summon worshippers with the right of residents to live in peace and quiet. It is also worth considering that while the request is for three calls to prayer, Muslims actually pray five times a day. It is not impossible that there would be an eventual request for all five to be announced via loudspeaker, meaning a 5.00am din for all the residents within earshot.
But amidst all the media coverage and widespread hot-air blog comment on this story, there has been absolutely no religious analysis at all. And it is in the religio-political realm that the analysis must be done for the fullest implications of the application to be uncovered.
Firstly, let us dismiss the notion of ‘equivalence’, for there is not the remotest equivalence of the peeling of church bells with the proclamation of the mosque’s adhan. The former is a British cultural manifestation with a thousand years of history and is theologically neutral; indeed, it is merely audible symbolism. But the latter belongs to quite a different culture: it is an unequivocally insensitive theological declaration with profoundly political implications, and is invasively ‘in-your-face’ and ‘down-your-throat’ (or whatever the audial equivalent be). It includes the words:
Allah u Akbar - Allah is the Greatest
Ash-hadu allā ilāha illallāh - I bear witness that there is no god except Allah
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasūlullāh - I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
These phrases are repeated three or four times, and the whole call goes on with rather more, but you get the drift.
The fact that it will be proclaimed in Arabic rather conceals the significance and mitigates the offence, for it were in English it would doubtless be considered an affront to many Oxonians. It is absurdly simplistic and utterly naïve to assert that the Adhan has no more significance than church bells; indeed, it would be more accurate to say it is equivalent to broadcasting the Lord’s Prayer three times a day via loudspeaker, or proclaiming the Trinity and the Lordship of Christ, or intoning John 1:1-5 three or four times. And yet even these do not have the terrestrial political significance of ‘Jesus is Lord and the Pope is his Vice-Regent on earth’. Or if Cranmer’s Roman Catholic communicants prefer, he offers an Ulster scenario in which the Free Presbyterian Church applies to Belfast City Council to broadcast via loudspeaker three-times-a-day the declaration: ‘Jesus is Lord and Her Majesty the Queen is the only supreme governor on earth of the Church in England and the English crown shall enjoy all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity.’
Cranmer need not expand upon the potential consequences in Belfast of intoning that three times a day.
The public declaration of either of these statements – on the status of the Pope or the Queen - would not be politically acceptable, even though both may be deemed to affirm religio-political truths. While the first would have clear constitutional implications, the second would imperil the Queen’s peace and would not therefore be permissible. The Adhan is about theological dominance and political supremacy, originating, as it does, from a culture in which one religious system prevails, and none has the right to object. It is territorial, and will lead to Christians and others being driven out of the neighbourhood, more Muslims moving in, thus exacerbating the segregation which leads to 'ghettos'.
As ever, critics of both Islam and Islamism are quick to demand reciprocity – for the sound of church bells to reverberate over Jeddah, Islamabad, Karachi or Rhyad. But this is to miss the point, and rather moves us back three centuries with the inference that the UK should adopt the intolerance of the Islamic world.
But perhaps the most important question is where permitting the Adhan to reverberate over Oxford’s spires would ultimately lead. Should the shofar be heard throughout the land? Should the Shema be declared over loudspeakers in Golders Green? And if not, why not? And then the Sikhs can come up with something, and the Hindus and Buddhists, and then the Jedi Knights, and every hour of every day can be filled with a cacophony of bells and calls to prayer, meditation, chanting, and intoning of ‘May the Force be with you’.
But Cranmer must remind himself that he now lives in a postmodern, relativist, politically-correct era, in which, ultimately, the wishes of the minarety outweigh those of the majority. (sorry)