Galilee Diary #562, January 18, 2012
...With the realization that our brothers are capable, in their moral
qualities, of relating in this way to the members of another people and
of crudely desecrating their holy places, I am forced to wonder, if the
situation is like this now, what will be our relationship to others when
we finally do achieve ruling power in the land of Israel. If this is
the Messiah, then "let him come but let me not see him.
-Achad Ha'am, in a letter on news from Palestine, 1913.
Typically, a village mosque has two religious functionaries, an imam, who leads prayer, preaches, teaches, and provides pastoral care and communal leadership and the muezzin, a sort of combination of cantor and shammes, who deals with the day-to-day administration and upkeep of the mosque. The major function of the muezzin
is to call the public to prayer, five times a day, from the tower of
the mosque (and to relay other important communications as they come up,
most commonly death announcements). In Israel, both of these
functionaries are government employees, like [Orthodox] rabbis. In many
villages, one or both are part-time positions, and I know imams who also work as gym teachers, auto mechanics, etc. I think that most muezzins are autodidacts; most imams
receive some kind of professional training at seminaries in Jerusalem
or Jordan or Egypt; some, as in the Orthodox community, are privately
ordained by a local teacher. The division of religious affairs in the
ministry of the interior, which is responsible for non-Jewish religious
services, provides in-service courses and occasional seminars and
enrichment programs for imams and muezzins.
The reason that mosques have minarets is to provide a high platform for the muezzin
to chant the call to prayer so that it will be heard far and wide;
indeed, traditionally, the municipal boundaries of a village were
considered to be defined by the area in which the muezzin could be heard. Today there are loudspeakers mounted on the minarets, and the muezzin
chants from downstairs and can be heard over a much wider radius than
in former, unplugged, times (in answer to one FAQ, by the way, the
chanting is still live, not recorded). The advent of electronic
amplification has led, it seems to me, to a diminution in quality of
life for village residents. Often I have been visiting near a mosque
in a school, on the street, in a living room when it was time for the
call to prayer, and been frustrated and annoyed by the blast of sound
that makes conversation impossible for several minutes (think of a
low-flying jet). And for the locals, this happens every day, five
times. I wonder if this nuisance is seen as a result of incompetence, a
manifestation of religious assertiveness, or simply a fact of
nature/culture that is taken for granted.
Our home in Shorashim is on a hillside overlooking the Hilazon
valley; it is about a mile across the valley as the crow flies, from our
bedroom window to the minaret of the mosque in the village of Shaab.
When we first arrived, we were very conscious of the muezzin's
call, especially the one that comes between 4:00 and 5:00 am. However,
it didn't take long for us to tune it out; if I happen to be awake at
the time of the morning call, I notice it, but I don't think it has
actually awakened me in many years. Indeed, I find the plaintive chant
pleasing. And while my Arabic is rudimentary, I can identify a funeral
announcement and generally even make out the name of the deceased.
Not all our neighbors are as laid-back about this as we are, and one
hears complaints about "noise pollution" and the disturbance to sleep
caused by the muezzin's call. Now, a number of them are
enthusiastic about a bill proposed by a member of Knesset to enforce
decibel limits on the loudspeakers of houses of prayer. Needless to say
the bill was not submitted by Arab parliamentarians concerned about
quality of life in their villages, but by Jewish lawmakers seeking to
protect Jews from Muslim noise pollution.
All those centuries we had to suffer from the wailing of the muezzin
or the cacophony of the church bells every hour; finally we have our
own state so we can shut them up. Somehow I don't think that this is
what Herzl (or Achad Ha'am) had in mind.