The Allahabad High Court held that recitation of azaan may be an integral part of Islam, whereas its recital through the loudspeaker is not an integral part. Recitation of azaan through human voice without using any sound-amplifying devices does not violate any COVID-19 guidelines. Profess, practise and propagate religion is a fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India. Some Muslim activists and prominent lawyers were filed several public interest litigation before the Allahabad High Court. They wanted to allow the “Muezzins” to recite the azaan through the loudspeakers amidst the lockdown which has been stopped by some District Magistrates.
Some District Magistrates have stopped the recitation of azaan from the mosque amidst lockdown. They issued such directions in furtherance of the implementation of COVID-19 guidelines. The ministry of Homes issued some guidelines for the containment of COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, no sound of Azan is hearing from the Mosque which the Muslim community claims as an integral part of Islam.
Public Interest Litigation for the recital of azaan
During the month of Ramzan, the entire Muslim community observes fasting from Sunrise to sunset. It is common practice in the Muslim community to open the daily fast by the recitation of Azan. Based on that belief, Muslim feeling aggrieved thereby filed several public interest litigation (PIL) before the Allahabad High Court.
Salman Khurshid and Afzal Ansari sent a letter to the Allahabad High Court. The Court treated their letters as a Public Interest Litigation. a bench, comprising Justices Shashi Kant Gupta and Ajit Kumar accumulated all PILs to deliver a common judgment for all.
The petitioners are prayed for to protect their fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate religion as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution of India. They seek an order from the court to direct the state administration to permit the recitation of azan through the loudspeakers or other amplifying devices. They wanted to permit the “Muezzin” or “Imam” or any authorized person from the respective Mosque in district Ghazipur, Farrukhabad and Hathras to recite the azaan.
Basis of Public Interest Litigation
The foremost ground for seeking a direction is that reciting Azan is an essential religious practice. This practice has been performed from time immemorial. Azaan is a mark to open and conclude the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. The ban upon recitation of azaan is violative of their fundamental right to freedom of religion. Article 25 of the Constitution of India confers freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion to all persons.
- The sound of Azaan from the Mosque marked as the beginning and concluding of the daily fast. The practice of opening the fast by the sound of the Azaan is an Islamic tradition prevailing since the time of Prophet.
- Reciting Azan is an essential religious practice. It is for the welfare of a religious community.
- Ban on the recital of azaan through loudspeaker or sound-amplifying devices is violative of a fundamental right as provided under article 25 of the Constitution of India.
- Recitation of Azaan through the loudspeaker is not in any way contradictory to public order, morality, health or any other provisions of part 3 of the constitution.
Objections of the State Government
The government of Uttar Pradesh strenuously defended the orders of District Magistrates before the Allahabad High Court. In its reply, the government mainly relied upon the guidelines issued by the central government in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The opposite party took these pleas:
- Azan is a call for the congregation to offer prayers at the mosque. It violates the guidelines for containing the pandemic.
- Since 24th March 2020, no religious activity is being carried out at any religious place.
- No loudspeakers are being used for any religious purpose by Temple, mosque Church or Gurudwara.
- New guidelines provide that all religious places of worship shall be closed for public.
- The religious congregation are strictly prohibited during the lockdown.
- People of different religions have been following the guidelines and no religious activities are being carried out at any religious place of worship.
The findings of the Court
The court could not satisfy from the arguments of petitioners that recitation of azaan through the loudspeaker is mandatory in Islam. Petitioners could not explain that a muezzin cannot offer azaan without the use of loudspeaker or other sound-amplifying devices.
The court observed that during the old days when the loudspeaker was not invented, Azan used to be given by human voice. Therefore, the use of loudspeaker for the recitation of azan is a modern practice. It has been developed by someone and not by the Prophet or his main disciples. This practice was not there in the past, and that the microphone is of recent origin. Accordingly, it could not be said that the use of microphone and loudspeaker is an essential and integral part of the Azan.
As well as, the government did not satisfy the court that the recital of Azan by a single person in the mosque is violative of COVID-19 guidelines. The court finds that if a Muezzin or Imaam or any other authorised person recites azaan through human voice is not violative of COVID-19 guidelines.
Eventually, the court held that the recitation of azaan is an integral part of Islam. Recital of Azan from the mosque through human voice does not cause any health hazards to any person of the society as well as does not violative of any guidelines.
Recitation of azaan is integral part of Islam
The court held that “Azaan” is certainly an essential and integral part of Islam. Right to offer Azan by voice, without the use of sound-amplifying devices is a fundamental right protected under Article 25 of the Constitution.
Recitation of azaan through loudspeaker is not an integral part of Islam
The right to recite azan through sound-amplifying devices are not protected under Article 25. Consequently, the use of loudspeaker for reciting azaan is not an integral part of Islam. A Muslim cannot claim recitation through a loudspeaker.
The microphone is a gift of technological age; its adverse effect is well felt all over the world. Use of loudspeakers otherwise in accordance with law affects fundamental rights of the citizens under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Freedom of religion is subject to others right as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, namely, religious freedom cannot abridge or take away or suspend others’ right under Article 19(1)(a) regarding their freedom of speech and expression.
Until and unless there is a license/permission from the authorities concerned under the Noise Pollution Rules, under no circumstances, Azan can be recited through any sound-amplifying devices.
Azan is simply a call to offer Namaaz and does not necessarily entail the people assembling at any mosque for the purposes of offering Namaaz.
Therefore, we are of the considered opinion that Azan can be recited by Muezzin from minarets of the Mosques by human voice without using any amplifying device and the administration is directed not to cause hindrance in the same on the pretext of the Guidelines to contain the pandemic Covid19 unless such guidelines are being violated.
The Hon’ble Allahabad High Court relied on these case laws in order to dispose of the bunch of PILs (Afzal Ansari And 2 Others vs State Of U.P. And 2 Others)
Om Birangana Religious Society Vs. The State and Ors (1997) 1 ICC 652 (Cal), [Calcutta High Court]
Amplification of human voice by the use of loudspeaker for the performance of religious activity is not a fundamental right under article 25. Right to profess, propagate and practise religion does not include the right to use loudspeaker and microphones.
Azaan is certainly an essential part of Islam but the use of microphone and loudspeakers are not an essential and integral part of Islam. Microphones and loudspeakers are the major sources of sound pollution and it affects the fundamental right of the citizens under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and making the citizens captive listeners, suspending all their fundamental and legal rights. None can claim an absolute right to suspend other rights or it can disturb other basic human rights and fundamental rights to sleep and leisure.
No religion or religious sect can claim that the use of loudspeakers or similar instruments for prayers or for worship or for celebrating religious festivals is an essential part of the religion which is protected under Article 25. We hold that there is no fundamental right to use loudspeakers or similar instruments under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. On the contrary, the use of such instruments contrary to the Noise Pollution Rules will be a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution. As well as the fundamental right of citizens of not being forced to listen to something which they do not desire to listen.
Ramlila Maidan Incident, in re, reported in 2012 (5) SCC 1: [Supreme Court]
Right of privacy and the right to sleep has always been treated to be a fundamental right like a right to breathe, to eat, to drink, to blink, etc. An individual is entitled to sleep as comfortably and as freely as he breathes. Sleep is essential for a human being to maintain the delicate balance of health necessary for its very existence and survival.
Co-author: Advocate Saurabh Srivastava