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It’s Christian bells vs. Muslim prayer calls

Detroit Free Press, USA
Apr. 14, 2004
Cecil Angel. Free Press Staff Writer • Wednesday April 14, 2004

Hamtramck Muslim community members’ request to amend the city noise ordinance so mosques can use loudspeakers for a call to prayer has divided some residents along religious lines.

At a City Council public hearing Tuesday, Muslim speakers said they often hear church bells that are louder and ring as early as 6 a.m., but they don’t complain. They said the call to prayer would be less noisy.

“We don’t want to make it a big deal, like you’re trying to make it,” said Abdul Algazali, a Hamtramck businessman. “It’s a low-pitched voice. It’s not going to wake up anybody.”

Some Christians said the call to prayer, which occurs five times a day and starts as early as 6 a.m., would disrupt their lives.

“When you call to prayer, you are proselytizing, and as a citizen of the United States I don’t want to hear it,” said Bob Golen, 68, a Hamtramck resident.

Resident Caroline Zarski, 81, agreed.

“It is not my God. My God is Jesus Christ. I don’t want this noise invading my home at 10 p.m.,” she said.

The Al-Islah Islamic Center asked the city in January to amend its noise ordinance to allow the call to prayer between 6 a.m and 10 p.m. In February, the council appeared to support the change but wanted to hold a public hearing.

At that meeting, Council President Karen Majewski likened the call to prayer to church bells.

But other residents disagreed.

According to Councilman Scott Klein, “Petitions have circulated among mainly white and Christian members of the community for weeks asking the council not to amend the ordinance.

“Both sides have issued threats of federal lawsuits based on the constitutionality of the ban or the removal of the ban.”

Some say the opposition stems from fears that Hamtramck’s Eastern European heritage — largely Polish — will further fade.

But the measure is likely to pass, Majewski said. There will be a vote next week, and if it passes it would go into effect in late May.

The city has become increasingly Islamic in flavor.

Conant Avenue has evolved into a Little Bangladesh with a variety of businesses.

Muslims have come to the city from Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan and other Islamic countries. According to the Bangladesh Association of Michigan, 20,000 Bangladeshis live in metro Detroit, mostly in Hamtramck and adjacent Detroit neighborhoods.

There are five mosques in the city and three other mosques just over the border in Detroit.

Their influence has been growing steadily. The City Council has its first Muslim member, Shahab Ahmed.

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