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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Save the wail (from soaring over Oxford's dreaming spires)

The wailing of a call to Muslim prayer over the dreaming spires of Oxford would be "un-English", according to the rector of one of the city's largest Anglican churches.

Damn right! It's not just un-English, but un-British, un-Western and downright unholy. But that is to Western ears. And this is the West. And this is Britain. And Oxford is in England.

So perhaps Charlie Cleverly of St Aldate's Church has cleverly made a good point when, in a seven-point statement to his congregation, he calls on the Central Mosque to drop its plans to broadcast the muezzin's message, wailed through a loudspeaker at high volume.

And that, lest PC types should start getting a bit frothy around the gills, is nothing to do with racism. Indeed, Cheerful Charlie "said he welcomed Muslims in Oxford and hoped a local dialogue between the faiths could be established", says Ekklesia, citing the Oxford Mail.

Charlie says, "I think it's to do with nuisance noise affecting the inhabitants that have to hear it. I feel it is un-English and very different from a bell. When such an area is subject to such a call to prayer, it may force people to move out and encourage Muslim families to move in.

"You do risk creating a kind of ghettoisation of the city a few years down the line. I think many people who are not Muslims have not got a text of the meaning of the Arabic in the call to prayer. I don't think words are neutral and I don't think the people of Oxford necessarily want to hear a call to prayer to Allah in the same way people don't want someone loud in their face asking them to buy coffee.

"There is a world of difference. Bells are just a signal and have been around for 1,500 years. They are a terribly English part of our culture."

And sound a damned sight better than the wail. While we're well aware of the significance of church bells, and the nonreligious among us would not be answering their call, they have, after all, been with us for centuries, we've enjoyed their peals, they're mostly euphonic and bells have traditionally been used as a signal to communities for all kinds of purposes, not just a summons to talk to invisible people in the sky.

Muslims disagree with Charlie's objections, as you would expect. Munir Chisti, the Imam at the mosque, says, "This is once a week on a Friday afternoon. I do not think it is going to cause problems for anyone. I think 60 to 70 per cent of people are happy with this, and think it should go ahead. The majority of people are happy and they know there is a freedom of speech and a freedom of religion."

He thinks 60 to 70 people are happy. If he merely thinks it, then he won't have done a scientific survey, so we can dismiss that one. And he misses the point that it's not a freedom-of-speech matter, since no one is telling Muslims they can't have opinions and state them in public places. Nor is it a freedom-of-religion thing. They can continue to head-butt their magic carpets till the cows come home.

But religion should not be wailed and bawled over a British city with a clear wording that says "God is the greatest", that "I bear witness that there is no lord except God", and "make haste towards prayer". That's just treading on everyone else's freedom not to listen to the racket.

Anyway, how would you tell it from a fire siren?

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