Religion out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism

By Isaac Weiner | Go to book overview

6
Calling Muslims—and Christians—to Pray

Caroline Zaworski was upset. “Muslims are allowed to pray in their mosque,” this eighty-one-year-old, Polish Catholic lifetime resident of Hamtramck, Michigan, declared at a contentious city council meeting in April 2004. “They are allowed to pray in their mosque, they can have their [call to prayer] in their mosque,…that’s their right. But why is the loudspeaker so important? A holy prayer is a holy prayer. God hears it whether it’s on a loudspeaker, whether it’s in your heart, whether it’s in a mosque. Why agitate? Why bring all these difficulties?” When the al-Islāh Islamic Center’s leaders petitioned Hamtramck’s city council in January 2004 for permission to broadcast the adhān, or call to prayer, they did not envision the ensuing “difficulties” to which this neighbor referred. For six months, controversy raged in Hamtramck, which attracted national attention, as residents debated a proposed amendment that would exempt the adhān from the local noise ordinance. The call to prayer functioned as a flashpoint in disputes about the integration of Muslims into this historically Polish Catholic-dominated community. No one openly contested Muslims’ right to worship in their mosques, but neighbors resisted and regarded as inappropriate this public pronouncement of Islamic presence that audibly intruded upon public space. Despite constitutional guarantees of free exercise, many suggested that there was a proper time, place, and decibel level for religious practice.1

As in municipalities across the United States, Hamtramck has grown increasingly diverse over the last few decades. And as has been true elsewhere, this diversity has given rise to new forms of public practice. It is clearly not only Christians who clamor to make themselves heard in American society today—or who expect to enjoy the right to do so. As the American studies scholar Sally Promey has argued, “Though it may have functioned differently in the past, in the early-twenty-first-century United States, the public display of religion plays a key role in manifesting the nation’s plural character.” These varied forms of public practice have not merely manifested the fact of social

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Religion out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • North American Religions ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - The Sounds of Power 17
  • 1 - From Sacred Noise to Public Nuisance 19
  • 2 - Church Bells in the Industrial City 40
  • Part II - The Sounds of Dissent 77
  • 3 - A New Regulatory Regime 79
  • 4 - Sound Car Religion and the Right to Be Left Alone 98
  • Part III - The Sounds of Difference 137
  • 5 - A New Constitutional World and the Illusory Ideal of Neutrality 139
  • 6 - Calling Muslims—And Christians—To Pray 158
  • Conclusion 195
  • Notes 209
  • Index 245
  • About the Author 251
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