Indonesia issues guidelines on call to prayer

Move comes amid outcry over jailing of woman for comment on volume of call

Meiliana, a 44-year-old ethnic Chinese Buddhist, sits in a courtroom for blasphemy charges, in Medan, Sumatra, on Aug 21, 2018.
Meiliana, a 44-year-old ethnic Chinese Buddhist, sits in a courtroom for blasphemy charges, in Medan, Sumatra, on Aug 21, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia's Ministry of Religious Affairs has issued a circular on "azan" or the Islamic call to prayer, with guidelines on when and how it ought to be broadcast by mosques, amid an outcry over the jailing last week of a woman who had commented on the volume of the call to a neighbour.

Titled "The use of loudspeakers in mosques, langgar and musholla", the circular released last Friday urges the religious institutions to follow the instructions of the director-general of Muslim guidance, Tempo news site reported yesterday. Langgar and musholla are terms used in Indonesia for Muslim prayer houses.

The directive came three days after a 44-year-old woman of Chinese descent and Buddhist faith was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to 11/2 years in jail by the Medan district court.

The woman, named Meliana, had in 2016 commented to her neighbour about the volume of azan broadcast by a mosque near her home in northern Sumatra.

But the neighbour told others about it and soon rumour had it that Meliana was trying to ban azan.

The resulting outrage led to a rampage by Muslims on several Buddhist temples in what was believed to be the worst bout of anti-Chinese violence in the country since 1998.

After Meliana was sentenced last Tuesday, civil society groups and lawyers denounced the verdict as excessive and silly while the two biggest Muslim organisations in the country, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, questioned the use of the blasphemy clause against the woman.

The ministry's instructions on azan run over six points:

•The maintenance of loudspeakers in mosques should be handled by experienced personnel to avoid droning sounds, hums and other noises that would potentially arouse antipathy towards mosques.

•Those issuing azan must possess a melodious and good voice.

•Do not raise sound levels while conducting a prayer.

•Except the azan, do not broadcast sounds when most people are expected to be sleeping, resting and praying.

•Azan must fulfil basic qualities such as being melodious and easy on the ears.

•Azan should be broadcast at appropriate times like during the subuh prayer at dawn. Activities such as Quran reciting should utilise only indoor speakers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 26, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesia issues guidelines on call to prayer'. Subscribe