A 17th-century mosque located in Mumbai’s bustling Kalbadevi neighbourhood has taken a 21st-century step to live stream the azaan directly into people’s homes via a mobile phone application.
The iconic Jama Masjid has tied up with tech experts from Maharashtra College’s Incubation Department and is currently working on creating an app called “Al-Islah” that will not only the sound the Islamic call for prayer, but also convey important announcements and social messages from the mosque, as well as curb misinformation. The app is currently being developed for both iOS and Android and has already been tested in a closed circuit; its beta testing will commence within the next week and the app is expected to be available to the public within the next month.
The use of loudspeakers for sounding azan, the Islamic call for prayer (namaaz), has become a full-blown political issue after it drew the ire of MNS Chief Raj Thackeray for the first time two months ago. In his Gudi Padwa speech, Thackeray threatened that if the practice of using “illegal” loudspeakers was not put an end to after the holy month of Ramadan got over (May 2), he would retaliate by playing the Hanuman Chalisa (on an even louder volume than the azan) outside mosques.
Although azan is sounded five times a day, it is the early morning call for prayer sounded close to dawn—commonly known as Fajr—that has been touted as problematic and as a “social issue” since the Supreme Court in 2005 banned the use of sound amplifiers (including trumpets and drums) between 10 PM and 6 AM. The only exception to this rule is in the case of “public emergencies.”
‘Al-Islah’ aims to circumvent the ongoing debate over the use of loudspeakers by live-streaming a cleric’s call for prayer directly on the app.
Speaking with The Federal, Professor Saima Shaikh, Director of Maharashtra College’s Incubation Centre, said: “Since almost every person uses a smartphone nowadays, we thought why not create a mobile application that helps us make the azaan reach people’s homes directly?”
“It (the app) has two modes that can be toggled in its settings. The first is a push notification feature that will flash notification(s) on the person’s mobile phone that the azaan is currently going on while the other feature will directly activate live streaming of the azaan directly on your phone. People who don’t want to be woken up early (for Fajr) can opt for the first setting.”
Shaikh says that the mobile app’s USP is its live streaming feature. “Sometimes, news that is circulating on social media or on Whatsapp, needs clarification. This can be achieved by the app in real-time. It prevents the spread of misinformation. The push notification setting can also be used to make announcements.”
“We have already tested the app between ourselves (developers) but its beta testing will commence sometime in the next 8-10 days,” Shaikh said.
Chairman of the Jama Masjid of Bombay Trust (JMBT) Shuaib Khatib welcomed the move as a use of technology.
“There is a dhaarmik (religious) issue that is prevailing right now. The Supreme Court is the country’s highest court and it has rules against noise pollution that we have to abide by. On the other hand, we still have to fulfill our religious responsibilities; we cannot leave that. So, by staying within the ambit of the law and guidelines laid down by the SC, if we find another way, then we have to do that. There were no loudspeakers 500 years ago when the call for prayer used to be given only by voice. But when technology advanced, loudspeakers began to be used for azaan. So why not use technology again right now?” he told The Federal.
Khatib said that the azaan will be heard live on the app at the same time as it is held in the mosque, which will thereby notify people that it’s time to pray.
“It (the app) can be used to convey messages about mosque-related activities and also help trustees to get social messages out to the public,” he said.
He also said that even though the app is being created only for Jama Masjid now, if the trustees of other mosques want to tailor the app according to their needs and use it, his tech team will develop it for them.
“We do not want to promote this app as an alternative to the traditional azaan that we hear being sounded by the mosque,” said Shaikh. “It is just that we have a situation right now and we are trying to overcome that. We are definitely going to miss the sound of azaan in the mornings since it has been a part of our childhood…but one has to always adapt to the situation at hand.”
Khatib however said that the culture of traditionally playing the azaan on loudspeakers will not end. “We don’t have to end that culture…it will always be in its place. The SC has not said anywhere you can’t sound the azaan over a mike or a loudspeaker. It has only said that no religious place can use loudspeakers between 10 PM and 6 AM. Azaan has not been stopped by any court.”