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US: New York City to allow Muslim call to prayer on Fridays

Initiative met with mixed responses, as some Muslims raise questions about mayor's recent trip to Israel
Men pray in the Eyup Cultural Center mosque on 3 November 2017 in New York City.
Men pray in the mosque of the Eyup Cultural Center in New York City, on 3 November 2017 (AFP)

New York City has launched a new initiative that will allow mosques across the US city to broadcast the call to prayer, or adhan, on Fridays, as well as during evening prayers throughout the month of Ramadan.

New York now joins other cities, including Minneapolis, which have introduced similar measures.

“For too long, there has been a feeling that our communities were not allowed to amplify their calls to prayer,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Today, we are cutting red tape and saying clearly that mosques and houses of worship are free to amplify their call to prayer on Fridays and during Ramadan without a permit necessary."

The new guidance will permit mosques in the city to broadcast the call to prayer between 12:30pm and 1:30pm every Friday. It also permits the broadcasting of the adhan during maghrib (evening) prayers each night of the holy month of Ramadan.

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The news was met with a warm welcome from some members of the faith community, who said that it was "one of the biggest blessings we have ever received" as Muslims in New York.

"To be able to hear the adhan every Friday while we're walking to the mosque during one of our holiest days. It has a huge significance to our children. A lot of us oldtimers, we grew up hearing the adhan back home. We miss it. We long for it," said Mohamed Bahe, the senior liaison to the Muslim community at the mayor's office.

"So now because of the mayor's office, and the mayor himself, our young generation, our future generation are able to experience that same experience that we had while we were growing up in Muslim countries," he told Middle East Eye.

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Other members of the faith community, however, raised concerns over the announcement. One of the reasons for this is the involvement of the New York Police Department, which is leading the initiative.

"The NYPD’s new legal guidance clarifies for mosques and masjids that the call to prayer is allowed in New York City and not prohibited despite sound restrictions in city neighborhoods," the press release from the mayor's office said.

NYPD commissioner Edward Caban said that the police department's "proud embrace of this idea is at the heart of our robust community outreach, our crime-fighting efforts, and our ongoing public safety mission".

Previously, under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the NYPD launched a programme in which it secretly mapped and surveilled the Muslim community and sent informants to mosques to watch religious sermons.

Internal audits later revealed that the spying programme failed to provide a single criminal lead.

The now-discarded surveillance programme that targeted the city's Muslim communities left a legacy of distrust, and many still hold contempt for the police.

A 'slap in the face' to Muslims

Several community members in New York City raised issues with the timing of the announcement, which comes after Mayor Adams' recent trip to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The visit was condemned by New York leaders, Jewish Americans, and also Palestinian Americans, given the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians, which leading human rights groups have labelled as apartheid.

Abdullah Akl, an Egyptian-American organiser from New York City, told MEE that the timing of the announcement regarding the Muslim call to prayer a week after he took a trip to Israel was "no coincidence".

"The Muslim community and our leaders must see through the show that the mayor is playing for us, and call him out on his support for apartheid, and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians."

“It’s embarrassing that within 72 hours of the mayor returning from Palestine and shaking hands with Zionists that the Muslim community and our 'leaders' are rubbing shoulders with him for announcing [an] out loud adhan.”

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Akl and others said they see Tuesday's announcement as a move to distract Muslims from Adams' trip to Israel during a year of heightened violence against Palestinians. A tally by Middle East Eye shows that at least 216 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 37 children. 

Israeli forces have also launched several raids in the past few years on Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam.

"Allowing the mosques to make Adhan is an important step in NYC embracing our Muslim communities. However, it’s tarnished by the fact that this move comes immediately after Mayor Adams’ shameful trip to meet with Israeli leaders who trample on the freedom, rights and dignity of Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike," said Nerdeen Kiswani, a Palestinian activist and the founder of Within Our Lifetime Palestine.

"The Mayor's propaganda trip and promise to tour settlements in the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005 is a slap in the face to Muslim communities worldwide."

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