Diana Marsella lives next to a mosque in central Jakarta and the call to Islamic morning prayer jolts her out of her slumber every day before dawn.
“It’s so loud that it will wake you from your deepest sleep,” the 27-year-old computer programmer said of the scratchy announcements. “I wish they’d turn down the volume and use a better sound system.”
Calls for Indonesian mosques to lower the volume of loudspeakers have mounted during the current Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when activity at Islamic places of worship increases.
In addition to calls to prayer, known as adhan, Indonesians use loudspeakers at mosques to amplify Koranic recitals and sermons.
Discordant voices fill entire neighborhoods during any of the five prayer times, when all the local mosques blast the adhan at the same time.
Former vice president Jusuf Kalla, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council, said he would organize training for mosque officials about acceptable noise levels.
“We’re not going to ban the use of loudspeakers at mosques, but the noise level must be regulated,” he was quoted as saying in local media last week.
Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country but it has also sizeable religious minorities. The country is home to about 800,000 mosques.
Even the hard-line Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), a group known for attacking bars and other nightspots accused of flouting restrictions on opening hours during Ramadan in the past, believe mosques should keep it down so as not to disturb people, especially non-Muslim.
Koranic recitals are encouraged during Ramadan, when Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk and religious fervor is high.
“We’re worried about possible negative perceptions,” said Salim Alatas, the head of the FPI’s Jakarta branch. “Unless one is exceptionally softly spoken, no loudspeaker is necessary, especially at night.”
A businessman sees the increasing unease about the cacophony as an opportunity to introduce high fidelity sound to the places of worship.
Harry Aprianto Kissowo’s company produces loudspeakers, including a range of sound systems especially designed for mosques under the brand Al Karim.
“We want change the image of mosques as places with poor quality sound systems,” Kissowo said.
“Mosques can produce high-fidelity sound too. Calls to prayer can still be heard, and they can also be music to people’s ears.” Kissowo said his company had provided sound systems to the presidential palace and exported its products to the United States, Japan and Russia.
Guidelines on the use of loudspeakers were issued by Indonesian authorities decades ago, including a requirement for mosques to use only inside speakers for activities other than calls to prayer, but they are often ignored.
In April, Vice President Boediono triggered a debate by saying that mosques need not be too loud, something that few officials dare to say openly.
“We are all aware that the adhan is a holy call for Muslims to perform their prayers,” he said at the annual conference of the Indonesian Mosque Council.
“But I, and probably others too, feel that the sounds of adhan that are heard faintly from a distance resonate more in our hearts that those that are too loud and too close to our ears.” Some Indonesians criticized his remarks, arguing mosque noise is part of daily life in a Muslim-majority country and that he should talk about more pressing issues like corruption.