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10 February 2007

Muslim call to prayer irks some residents - Mosque loudspeaker disturbs peace and quiet in the neighborhood, they say

medium_413585907124517x5_mosque1_O462.jpgIt is precisely 2:45 p.m. Friday afternoon, and an evocative male voice penetrates the cold winter air. (The Masjid Nur Al-Islam mosque at 21 Church Avenue in Kensington)

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,” the man sings in simple and repetitive musical notes. The message is in Arabic, and translates to, “God is the greatest.”

The Islamic call to prayer, or Adhan, summons Muslims for ritual prayers five times each day.

In Kensington, the call to prayer is amplified by a loud speaker perched atop the Masjid Nur Al-Islam mosque at 21 Church Avenue.

The broadcast continues for about two minutes, resonating through a part-commercial, part-residential section of the neighborhood.

The Adhan can be heard from blocks away, and that is no accident. Imam Abuismail Tahoor Ahmed explains this is an important aspect of the tradition.

“It reaches out to the masses,” said Ahmed. “It reminds them of their obligation.”

But this tradition is the focus of a delicate community controversy. The debate weighs two “rights” citizens cherish: religious freedom and good ol’ fashioned peace and quiet.

At a recent Dahill Neighborhood Association meeting, Captain Peter DeBlasio was met with a chorus of complaints.

DeBlasio, commanding officer of the 66th Precinct, was invited to the forum to update community members on local policing initiatives, but much of the conversation focused on noise emanating from the Church Avenue facility.

“It’s a sensitive issue that’s going to be addressed,” DeBlasio assured frustrated residents.

“When it starts to affect residents in the area, we need to find a compromise,” DeBlasio said.

Marina Mouromoustakos, who lives three blocks away from the Church Avenue mosque, said she can hear the call to prayer even with her windows closed.

“They need to respect other people’s rights,” Mouromoustakos said. “I’m not telling them not to practice their religion. I just don’t want to listen to it five times a day.”

Ivan Selzer, co-president of the Dahill Neighborhood Association, described the debate as a “quality of life issue.”

“The noise seems to be above acceptable levels,” Selzer said.

Leaders from Masjid Nur Al-Islam were absent from the neighborhood gathering, saying they did not receive an invitation.

But Imam Abuismail Tahoor Ahmed expressed a willingness to meet with concerned residents and community leaders.

“If there’s anything we can do to ease tension in the community, we are willing to do that at any cost – provided it does not compromise our religion,” said Ahmed.

Ahmed said that in response to earlier complaints, the mosque had already made adjustments. He said one of two loudspeakers was removed and the direction of the remaining speaker was adjusted.

Ahmed said the mosque also refrains from broadcasting an early-morning call to prayer to “give respect to neighbors.”

The 66th Precinct plans on addressing the issue at an upcoming closed-door meeting, where representatives from Masjid Nur Al-Islam will be invited to meet with community representatives.

Erhan Yildirim, the NYPD’s new Muslim community liaison, is expected to participate.

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