Brampton and Mississauga join historic movement allowing Mosques to broadcast the Azan
The religious leader of a Brampton Mosque recently took part in a historic feat.
It was a specific task he thought he would never do: perform the Azan from his Mosque, his voice sent out on external speakers for the community to hear.
Mufti Muhammad Azam Bakhtira, Jamia Imam e Azam’s religious leader, felt the joy in the occasion. It made him feel like he was hearing one of the numerous calls to prayer he grew up with in Pakistan, when the soothing words bathed the skies.
A muezzin, the person who recites the call to prayer, gives the Azan inside a Mosque which is broadcast outside to the community
“It felt great to give it over the loudspeaker,” he told The Pointer. While he is no stranger to giving the Azan, occasionally reciting it within the confines of the Mosque, he had never announced it for the surrounding community as, until recently, it was against the law.
The temporary lifting of rules comes as the novel coronavirus continues to create uncertainty and anxiety amongst residents wanting to know when life might return back to normality.
Jurisdictions across North America have made the same allowance.
The time may be particularly hard for anyone celebrating birthdays, milestones or major religious events, including Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan.
It’s a time when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk – in the GTA there are roughly eight to nine hours when observant Muslims aren’t fasting. It’s marked with a heightened awareness, almsgiving and spiritual reflection on compassion. Large gatherings and festive group activities are traditional features of the month. From breaking their fast together to joining for prayers, Muslims come together to cook, eat, and stand shoulder to shoulder to pray during the holiest time of year.
Such practices will not be completed this year.
Instead, families are breaking fasts within their own homes, group prayers are not taking place and a sense of sadness fills the air for some – they have never experienced Ramadan this way.
But not all has been silenced.
Religious leaders have stepped up. Most have shifted their practices online – and like Pastors and Rabbis before them – they are helping communities stay connected while responsibly celebrating during a spiritually significant time.
City leaders have also stepped up in a historic way. Both the City of Mississauga and the City of Brampton made exceptions to their noise by-laws, allowing for the call for the evening prayer to be projected by Mosques and Islamic religious organizations across the cities. The same has been done in cities across the province, and parts of the country, a gesture never seen before in Canada. There are five daily prayers in Islam, which means there are five calls to prayer. Mosques are reciting the Azan for the fourth prayer that takes place at sunset, when Muslims break their fast during the holy month.
The accommodation has spread joy across Muslim communities in both cities, especially at a time when so many are looking for touchstones in their life. Social media has been flooded with videos of Mosques playing the Azan, with giddy, excited comments; many have been moved to tears, including non-Muslims.
There are video clips across the internet from a growing number of countries, including the U.S., where Minneapolis became the first city to allow the broadcasts. Emotional footage shows community members profoundly moved to hear the familiar echoing melody they had only previously heard outdoors in distant lands during another time in their lives.
A woman in Minneapolis was recently interviewed while she listened to the Azan broadcast in the city for the first time
This is how Tasneem Fathima learned about the temporary lifting of the rules. The Brampton resident felt overjoyed when she came across a post on WhatsApp, showing a young child giving the Azan at Bramalea Islamic Cultural Centre (BICC). She was transported to her own childhood, living with her parents and siblings in India and listening to the Azan when it played at the Mosques. “Just go and live; that was my attitude at that time, to go and live your life completely. [That] was the feeling,” she told The Pointer.
Depending on the pace, the Azan runs no longer than two to three minutes. Part of the scripture focuses on the Arabic phrase, that in English translates to, “come for success.” For Fathima, hearing those words meant a lot during a time when physical distancing measures have forced people to stay home. The words “give your spirit a sudden rush and it suddenly creates a positive feeling,” she said.
This feeling played a role in Mississauga and Brampton allowing the temporary exception.
Members of the Muslim community, like Christians during Easter, are giving up a really important ritual of meeting together to pray, Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish told The Pointer. She represents Ward 5, which includes Malton, and has gotten to know many members of the area’s large Muslim community. She says playing the Azan will allow people to feel spiritually connected without leaving their home.
“I think it's as close as they can get to being together. It's a poor substitute, but it's something,” Parrish said of the request she thought was simple to understand, given the circumstances. The Azan during the evening, when the allowance permits the call to prayer, is not made too late or early in the day and its delivery is in a very low decibel, lower than what Parrish said would normally be allowed for an “amplified noise.”
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish
Agreeing with such a motion was not a problem, as it’s just one of the numerous accommodations she has advocated for over her lifetime. Parrish, who served her city as a member of parliament, has visited the Middle East on five separate occasions. One of the first was in 1989, when she monitored an election in Hebron, a Palestinian city. This is where she heard the Azan for the first time and experienced, first hand, the “beautifully haunting” effect.
Her support for religious and cultural accommodation stretches even beyond the trips to Muslim-majority countries. When the issue of the kirpan, a religious article of faith worn by Sikhs, came up in Peel schools during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when she was chair of the PDSB, she testified in favour of them during a landmark Human Rights Commission case, which eventually cost her the position.
But her understanding of what the Canadian Charter of Rights represents was first formed by the stories she was told by her mother. The daughter of a Polish immigrant, her mom was often separated from other kids and was routinely subjected to a particularly derogatory term. “Those are the things that kind of seep into your being, and that's it. I’ve always been like that,” Parrish said.
The motion in Mississauga was brought forth by a variety of Mosques and the Muslim Council of Peel (MCP). Rabia Khedr, executive director of MCP, told The Pointer the decision for the organization to put in a formal request with Mississauga came after seeing what cities around the GTA were doing and the feeling Mississauga should move forward on its own initiative. “We felt that this symbolic gesture would really uplift people in Ramadan [in a way] that they have never experienced in their lives in this way.”
The actions have brought a lot of appreciation from the communities, giving many young people the opportunity to listen to the Azan from a Mosque for the first time. “They feel that their elected officials actually understand and support their freedoms and liberties equal to all,” Khedr said. It was a similar notion Mayor Bonnie Crombie highlighted, noting the task is not an amendment to the existing noise by-law, but a temporary exemption. “Council’s decision to support the symbolic broadcasting of the call to prayer during Ramadan this year will provide inspiration, familiarity and comfort to our City’s Muslim community during this challenging time,” Crombie told The Pointer.
In Brampton, the motion was brought to Council's attention after Mayor Patrick Brown received numerous phone calls and emails from Mosques around the city, asking elected officials to follow Toronto’s lead. “Everyone I have spoken to on the phone and bumped into understands the logic behind this and thinks it's a fair and right thing to do,” he said.
Similarly, in Brampton the allowance is not permanent and will end just before the last week of May when Ramadan concludes. Megan Ball, a city spokesperson told The Pointer it was a temporary request, given congregations aren’t able to assemble for prayer due to the current restrictions. After staff examined existing by-laws they found the request to be “reasonable,” Ball said. The motion was endorsed by Council on April 29 and a report on the matter will be brought forth to the Committee of Council on May 6, she said.
In both cities, the approval allows for the Azan to be broadcast during the month of Ramadan, until May 24.
The decision to do so has been met by heavy criticism in both cities. Crombie and Parrish have been dealing with a barrage of emails complaining about the Azan. Brown’s Twitter post on the matter is filled with a long string of similar comments.
Such practices have led Parrish to wonder why similar complaints don’t arise when Churches ring their bells on Sunday morning. “So you begin to wonder if all these people who are complaining have another agenda, and it’s probably religious intolerance more than it is ‘we don't like the sound’,” she said. Parrish does not frame this issue as a political one, but one about religious acceptance that encompasses the multiple faiths and cultures represented in Mississauga. “After 35 years in the business; I believe that we always say we're multicultural, but we don't actually step up to the plate as frequently as we should.”
She said some don’t realize this is not an exception reserved for the Muslim community, anyone can ask for such consideration.
“Should other community groups or religious organizations have questions or need accommodations during the pandemic, they may contact 311”, Ball told The Pointer.
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