An Indonesian mosque equipped with a loud speaker (bottom right) that is used to call the faithful to prayer in Jakarta. Year-round, like most urban dwellers in the world's largest Muslim nation that boasts 800,000 mosques, residents have to contend with the "azan" that begins at dawn and calls worshippers to prayer five times a day. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)
Indonesia's Religious Affairs Ministry has issued a circular calling on all religious government institutions in the country to re-introduce a 40-year-old set of guideline on the use of loudspeakers in mosques and mushollas (small mosques).
The ministry's Directorate General for Islamic Guidance released the circular on Aug. 24.
This came three days after the Medan District Court in North Sumatra sentenced a 44-year-old Buddhist woman to 18 months in prison for complaining about the volume of the call to prayer (azdan) from a mosque's loudspeaker near her house in Tanjung Balai town.
The verdict, in which the Chinese-Indonesian mother of four was found guilty of blasphemy under the nation's criminal code, has raised questions among society about the proper use of the loudspeakers.
"Since there are many questions about the use of loudspeakers in mosques and mushollas, for the sake of clarity, we ask for your help and cooperation in disseminating the 1978 instruction of the Directorate General for Islamic Guidance on Guidelines on the Use of Loudspeakers in Mosques and Mushollas," Muhammadiyah Amin said in the release.
It contains detailed guidelines about when and how mosques should use their loudspeakers. For example, amplified readings of the Quran can be broadcast at least 15 minutes before the adzan, and sermons should not be broadcast unless the number of attendants exceeds the mosque's capacity.
The circular also mentioned several steps that could be taken by regional religious governmental institutions in reintroducing the instruction.
These include distributing copies of the guidelines to managers of mosques and mushollas as well as leaders of Islamic organizations.
The instruction can also be released via social media platforms such as WhatsApp groups "in a polite way," Amin said.
Amin could not be reached for further comment by ucanews.com.
Ahmad Toha, who manages the Jami' Istiqomah Mosque in Ungaran of Semarang district, Central Java province, welcomed the news and promised to reintroduce the instruction among local Muslims.
He acknowledged that azdan can be obtrusively loud and spark social tension.
"When a mosque loudspeaker is used in an area where not all the population are Muslims, then it could create problems," he told ucanews.com.
Referring to the instruction, he said amplified recitations of the Quran can be broadcast in less than 15 minutes.
"It doesn't need to take that long. Five or ten minutes should be enough. And the volume of the loudspeaker doesn't need to be too loud," he said.
"We must promote mutual respect as we are all believers of a religious faith. That is the nature of [religious] tolerance," he said, adding that the fate suffered by the Buddhist woman, Meliana, would never have come to pass if people showed greater respect for others.
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin also posted an image containing the main points of the instruction on his personal Twitter account.