Back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, I stayed in a very racially mixed area. My neighbours were Malays, Indians, Eurasians and Chinese and all the fathers were civil servants. My dad was then attached, first with the Immigration Department and then with the Pension Branch. The place was Jalan Peel, Jalan Cochrane, Jalan Mentri, Jalan Shahbandar and Jalan Laksamana. Just a stone throw away was Kampong Pandan.
I stayed in Jalan Mentri where there are blocks of double storey terraced houses that lined both sides of the road. Just four blocks down the road was a surau which has since been converted into an Agama school. Right infront of the surau, the occupants of the double storey terrace houses were mainly non-Malays/Muslims.
When an "Azan" is made early in the morning to remind Muslims about the "Fajr" prayers, my mum would used this call as an alarm clock to get up to start the day's household chores. The first thing she would do is to attend to the laundry. After doing this, she would then proceed to prepare breakfast and at the same time, waking us up and be ready for school. By then, my dad would also be up and ready to board the morning bus to work.
In the evening, when the "Azan" is made to remind Muslims about the "Maghrib" prayers, we realised it was time for us to return home for dinner as we would be at that time be in a field flying kites, having a game of soccer, etc. with our friends.
For almost twenty years during my stay in this neighbourhood, not a single soul complain about the volume of the Azan because it has become an accepted norm. In fact, the ones most affected would be those non-Malays staying right infront of the surau which is about 50 feet away (door-to-door). But they continued to stay there for almost twenty years!
But today, how times have changed ....
The recent uproar about the Azan at the Masjid Al-Ikhlasiah in Kampung Kerinchi just simply showed how our society have degenerated in terms of inter-racial/religious understanding. We are so divided today that even a request to lower the volume could even bring about a public display of anger. However, I certainly would like to pose the following questions:
1. Was the letter sent by the MCA lawyer, a demand or an appeal? If it was a demand, then the person who sent the letter has overstepped the boundry since religion is a sensitive issue and must be handled as such.
2. If the letter was an appeal, then would the mosque committee consider the matter as such and inform the sender that the matter was under consideration?
3. The mosque committe while considering the matter should take into account the following:
3.1 If the Azan is for the "fajr" prayers, then it will affect those who have been working on night shifts and need the sleep.
3.2 What about the babies?
3.3 What about the ageds?
3.4 What about the sicks who are trying to recover from their ailments?
Since we are not living in a homogenious religious environment, all the above must be factored in so that everyone can live harmoniously with one another.
Perhaps, this little reminder may help. The honour of being the first Muezzin goes to Hazrat Bilal, a black slave who converted to Islam. He had a very sweet, resonant and musical voice. He was appointed as Muezzin by the Great Prophet SAW. The appointment of a black slave as the first person to call Muslims for prayers, shows that in Islam, all human beings are treated as equals. Rich or poor, black or white, short or tall - all are equal in the eyes of Allah. It is the piety of each individual that makes the difference [read more here].
As such, a little understanding from both sides will go along way to douse the anger that has been ignited in the last few days.