In late March, the mayor of a city within the greater Jakarta area publicly opposed a recent circular issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which regulates the volume level of mosque loudspeakers broadcasting the azan, the call to prayer for Muslims, which marks the time for obligatory prayers five times a day). The mayor of Depok, a conservative Muslim area, argued that the regulation – which, among other points, limits the loudspeaker volume up to 100 decibels – is too much. He argued that regulating the matter, which might affect loudspeaker operations in the over 500,000 mosques sprawled across the archipelago, should be left in the hands of local people.
A week later, the religious minister rebuffed the mayor’s criticism, arguing that even Saudi Arabia, where Islam originated, considered as a holy land for all Muslims in the world, has regulated the matter. Hence, he argued that there is nothing wrong in regulating the use of mosque loudspeakers.
This public spat, which involves two high-ranking public officials, shows how loudspeaker volume at mosques has increasingly become a mainstream issue in Indonesia. Although the use of loudspeakers at mosques has been ubiquitous in the country since the 1950s, public concern began to appear only in 1978 when the Suharto government issued a circular to address the noise level of mosque loudspeakers. The Ministry of Religious Affairs issued the circular after it found that the loudspeakers, which are used to amplify the sound of azan, were often improperly used. For example, either the loudspeakers were too loud or they were out of tune; hence the Suharto government argued the loudspeakers would tarnish the image of Islam and disturb people who were, for example, resting, especially non-Muslims.
The 1978 circular instructed Ministry of Religious Affairs staff across the archipelago to provide guidance to mosque committees in using the loudspeakers properly. However, since the majority of mosques in Indonesia are run by people and not by the government, the circular was not effective, since it was not legally binding.