The court has held that the use of sound amplifying devices is not an integral part of religious practices, and is not protected by the Constitution.
It is one thing to respect religious practices and another to blindly follow them oblivious to the suffering brought about by such practices.
Recently, the Allahabad High Court had an opportunity to discuss and reiterate the position of law on the use of sound-amplifying devices for the purposes of religious practices. The said decision was delivered in a petition arising out of restrictions placed through several administrative orders in various districts of Uttar Pradesh on the recitation of azaan.
On 15 May 2020, the High Court delivered the verdict reiterating that the use of sound amplifying devices is not an integral part of the religious practices, and is not protected by Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
The said position has been observed by the apex court as well as various high courts across the country in the past, and there is nothing ingenious to the judgement of the Allahabad High Court.
However, the presentation of such petition contending that the use of sound-amplifying devices for recitation of azaan is an integral part of Islam raises debate on the issue of regressive/outdated practices in Islam, and the need for reformation as every religion has to go through transformation befitting the needs of the changing world.
Afzal Ansari And Ors Versus State Of Uttar Pradesh And Ors
The petition was filed against the prohibitory orders issued by administrative authorities in various parts of Uttar Pradesh imposing restriction on recitation of azaan during the lockdown period imposed in wake of Covid-19.
It is pertinent to mention that such orders put a blanket ban on recitation of azaan and not merely the use of loudspeakers/amplifying devices.
Hence, the High Court was faced with two important issues: one, whether the restriction on use of sound-amplifying devices is violative of Article 25 of the Constitution, and two, whether the recital of azaan violates the orders/guidelines of the government and other administrative authorities by calling for congregation.
While the court held clearly that recitation of azaan by a single person in a mosque does not violate any orders/guidelines of the government, the recitation through sound-amplifying devices is not protected by Article 25 of the Constitution.
The court analysed various judgements of different courts which have dealt upon the issue of use of such devices on religious occasions for religious purposes.
The Calcutta High Court’s verdict in Om Birangana Religious Society versus the State and Ors on use of amplifying devices, while daily pujas by a Hindu organisation and the apex court’s verdict in Church of God (Full Gospel) in India versus K K R Majestic case on similar issues, clearly established that use of such devices in not integral part of religious practices.
The Allahabad High Court in the instant case also analysed if the use of such devices is prescribed in the religion leading to the conclusion that it is nowhere laid down as a practice.
The Allahabad High Court further observed that rights contained in Article 25 are subjected to the public health and morality (noise pollution) and are also limited by the ‘right to not hear’ contained in Article 19.
Further, the noise pollution rules clearly stipulate that permission has to be sought for the use of such devices in public.
Need For Reformation In Regressive/Outdated Practices
It is important to understand that the said verdict is not anti-religion and should not be perceived as a case of Islamophobia.
In India, every religion has gone through reformations adapting to the changing needs of the societies and attitudes. This is not to say that such reformations have not taken place in Islam, however, many of these reforms have been either perceived as anti-religion or an instance of Islamophobia.
Instances Of Incorporating Change
Quran prohibits taking or paying of interests (Riba 2:275) as the same is considered to be unjust gain made in a trade or business.
However, the practice of taking loans which has become more prevalent and systematic in modern times comes at the cost of payment of interest.
A need for many, loan is taken by people irrespective of the religion and interest is paid as per the agreement.
The same is a deviation from the sanctioned practice, however, it is the drive for sustenance that allows such deviation. (There are institutions such as Islamic banks which are based on the idea of interest-free loans, however, these institutions are not prevalent in banking sector in India and are limited to non-banking financial sector.)
Quran also prohibits the use of intoxicants (5:90), however, alcohol has become a part of lives of many individuals including the ones belonging to Muslim religion.
Quran also prescribes restrictions on certain types of clothing (24:31) but such restrictions are now hardly observed in many countries including India.
The above examples are not intended to show that people belonging to Muslim religion who are practising such deviant acts are un-Islamic. It is only to discuss how changes have taken place in various practices owing to the moral and progressive values such as equality and freedom.
However, certain practices still continue to exist despite being regressive and violative of basic rights as a human being.
For instance, adoption is restricted in Islam. The individuals are free to adopt but the adopted ones are not afforded the status of a family member.
In fact, until 2014 the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, so far as it relates to adoption, was not applicable in cases of Muslims and it was only after the apex court’s verdict, the right was extended to Muslims as well.
Still, the apex court refused to declare the same as fundamental right stating values and beliefs of communities. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) even registered its protest against the petition stating that the same violated the Sharia law.
The example of triple talaq is a notable one. A practice which was abandoned in many Islamic countries continued in India for sake of religious belief, until challenged and later declared unconstitutional by the apex court.
The verdict was not received very well among the male members of Muslim community who perceived the verdict as an attack on their religious ideologies. The regard for women’s rights found no place in the outrage.
In Islam, a Muslim man is allowed to have more than one wife. In India, polygamy is prohibited except in Muslims. A public interest litigation was filed before apex court against the practice of polygamy among Muslims, however, the same has been opposed by the AIMPLB.
Lastly, coming to the example of use of sound-amplifying devices during azaan, the prohibition on such devices is also perceived as being anti-Muslim.
The debate nowhere incorporates the elements of public health and morality but only gives preference to the religious practice.
It is one thing to give due regard to the religious practices and another to be completely lost in them shutting eyes to the oppression and suffering brought by such practices.
In India, the Constitution is the basic law of the land and not even personal laws can override the constitutional values. The fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution demand reformation in the religious practices.