A call to prayer - by loudspeaker
A local mosque's broadcast tests the tolerance of a city.
In this working-class town surrounded by Detroit, every street corner is a meeting of nations. Kosinski Hardware sits across from Aladdin Sweets. Olga and Ania's Beauty Salon is next door to a Bosnian restaurant, and the local King Video advertises movies in Albanian, Arabic, Polish, and Hindi. Conversations on the street are as likely to be in Bengali or Polish as in English.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But if Hamtramck's immigrant past has always been a source of pride, lately it's caused tensions as well, now amplified - literally - by a call to prayer that local mosques will broadcast from speakers five times a day.
The city council's adoption this week of an ordinance that allows the calls between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. has spurred debate about where the right to religious freedom ends and the right to quiet begins. Now, a flood of dissent has turned Hamtramck into a national symbol of culture clash, an intersection of turmoil and tolerance. What began as a simple question of noise has become a flash point of religious distrust, difference, and fear of Muslim "outsiders."
"Fear is the driving factor here," says the Rev. Stanley Ulman, a mild-mannered pastor who has presided over St. Ladislaus church for 25 years. Many Polish residents "feel that this isn't their town anymore - that they're being shoved out." The Reverend Ulman has urged his congregation not to rush to judgment - to give the broadcasts a chance and, more important, to start a dialogue with Muslim neighbors. But many are skeptical. "Change is the issue here," he says. "And change is always difficult,
When the Al-Islah Islamic Center submitted its request to the council last year, it didn't anticipate a firestorm. Instead, its leaders thought they were simply being courteous - offering the city government a chance to approve and regulate the calls to prayer, which were already permitted under local laws.
"It's been blown way out of proportion," says Masud Khan, the secretary for Al-Islah, as he sits in the mosque's prayer room. He points out that three Detroit towns on Hamtramck's borders have been issuing the calls for years without objection. Mr. Khan and other Muslims compare the calls to church bells - religious sounds that travel into the community. And with so many Muslims living nearby, he says, broadcasting the calls is the mosque's duty. "This is a freedom-of-religion country. And if you follow your religion, you have to have tolerance for others."
In Al-Islah's foyer, flyers explain the calls to non-Muslims. They'll sound five times a day - at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall - last a little over a minute, and include proclamations that translate as "Allah is the greatest," "Mohammed is the messenger of Allah," "Come to prayer," and "Come to success." They are meant only for Muslims, says Mr. Khan. "We are not preaching."
But some residents disagree. While early objections centered on noise, they quickly morphed into discomfort with the calls' content. Area churches don't project their sermons beyond their own walls, dissenters point out. And church bells don't carry a specific message.
"The fact that Allah, who is not my God, is being praised five times a day, seven days a week, for 365 days a year, is upsetting," says Bob Golen, a retired legal consultant who's lived in Hamtramck for 68 years. "I don't intend on moving, and I'm not out to start a war. But we will never see eye to eye on this particular issue."