According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 587,000 Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) were lost in the EU region as of 2011 due to noise pollution. According to another WHO report, almost 466 million people have disabling hearing loss, 34 million of which are children; that number is expected to rise to over 900 million people by 2050. While the majority of noise pollution in cities comes from road traffic, in Ghana, mosques – and specifically the Muslim call to prayer – are being seen as a main source of noise.
In response, authorities in the capital Accra are looking to ban the Muslim call to prayer from being broadcast from mosque minarets, as it is seen as excessive noise. Authorities have suggested to Muslim communities that they broadcast the call to prayer via texts or WhatsApp messages as an alternative.
Ghana’s Environment Minister, Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, believes that disallowing the call to prayer from being broadcast over megaphones will help curb noise pollution in the capital. “This may be controversial but it’s something that we can think about,” he said to German Deutsche Welle.
As practical of an alternative as it may seem, the Muslim community in Accra doesn’t think that banning the call to prayer is such a good idea. For many Muslims, broadcasting the call to prayer over WhatsApp cannot substitute the call being broadcast through megaphones across the city.
Muslims represent a little over 17% of the population in Ghana.
In orthodox Islamic tradition, the call to prayer, which is made five times each day to call Muslims to the five daily prayers, should be as far-reaching as possible. In modern times, that necessitates using a megaphone in order to broadcast prayer times to Muslims around mosques.
While using WhatsApp to notify Muslims of prayer times will reduce the excess noise caused by the call to prayer, it may exclude Muslims who aren’t as tech savvy. “Not everyone is on social media, and not everyone is as literate as he is,” Accra resident Kevin Pratt said to Deutsche Welle. Another resident interviewed in the same piece noted that: “The Muslim call to prayer is traditionally supposed to reach as far as possible.”
Although mosques have been at the forefront of the government’s noise pollution campaign, the noise produced by churches is also perceived as causing “excessive noise.”
In their guide on safe listening, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that “safe listening” is considered based on the intensity of sound levels and the duration of time that individuals are exposed to that sound. The organization suggests that the highest permissible sound level is 85 decibels, stressing that individuals should only be exposed to this kind of hearing for a maximum of eight hours.
To put this in context, a car usually emits 70 decibels and a subway whirring by can emit up to 100 decibels. Individuals should only be exposed to levels at 100 decibels for only 15 minutes per day, says the WHO.
Although reliable statistics on noise levels in Accra are difficult to ascertain, unofficial numbers put noise levels in the city is at 65 decibels during the day and 58 decibels at night.
Noise pollution is a huge challenge for big cities. New York City announced in late 2016 it was going to invest $5 million to analyze noise pollution levels in the city. Singapore, one of Asia’s “Four Tigers,” said it would help its urban planners understand how different city noises interact with one another using AR technology. Also in 2016, the Israeli government announced it was banning the call to prayer in Jerusalem altogether, saying it woke up non-Muslims in the middle of their sleep and caused them harm.