New Delhi, May 15: The Allahabad High Court on Friday allowed the muezzins in the state to recite the azaan (call to prayer) from minarets of mosques during the lockdown, ruling that recital of the azaan is an integral part of Islam.

However, the bench, comprising Justices Shashi Kant Gupta and Ajit Kumar, refused to allow the use of loudspeakers for the recitation, stating that the use of loudspeakers or microphones cannot be considered an integral part of Islam, The Print reported.

It observed that the use of loudspeakers, in fact, affects the fundamental rights of citizens under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and observed: “No one has got the right to make other persons captive listeners. One cannot disturb others’ basic human rights and fundamental rights.”

The state government had relied on the lockdown guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24 March, pointing out that they provide for closure of all places of worship. The court, though, rejected this contention.

“We fail to understand as to how the recital of azaan by a single person in the mosque i.e. Muezzin/Imam or any other authorised person, through human voice without using any amplifying device, asking the Muslims to offer prayer and that too without inviting them to the mosque, can be violative of any guidelines,” the bench said.

The court directed the district administrations to not cause any hindrance to the recital of azaan from mosques being done without loudspeakers on the pretext of it violating the lockdown guidelines.

Letters were written to the court by Ghazipur MP Afzal Ansari, former Union law minister and senior advocates Salman Khurshid and S. Wasim A. Qadri, challenging the prohibitory orders passed by the district administrations in Ghazipur, Farrukhabad and Hathras against the azaan. They had called these restrictions arbitrary and unconstitutional, and had demanded that Muslims in these districts be permitted to recite the azaan through muezzins, by using loudspeakers.

The petitioners had asserted that the azaan does not violate any of the lockdown conditions, and had alleged that a ban on it violates the fundamental right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution. They submitted that the pronouncement of azaan is “not a congressional practice” but is simply an act of recitation by a single individual, calling the believer to offer Namaz at their homes, and therefore does not violate any of the conditions of the prevailing lockdown.

In response, the state government had submitted that the azaan is a call for the congregation to offer prayers at the mosque, and therefore violates the guidelines for containing the pandemic. It submitted that during the lockdown, neither has any religious activity been permitted, nor have loud speakers been used during festivals such as Navratri, Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.

The court referred to the Supreme Court as well as high court judgments to reject the contention that the use of loudspeakers was essential for practice of Islam.

For instance, it referred to the judgment in Church of God (Full Gospel) in India v. K.K.R. Majestic passed in 2000, when the Supreme Court had observed that “no religion or religious sect can claim that the use of loudspeakers or similar instruments for prayers or for worship or for celebrating religious festivals is an essential part of the religion which is protected under Article 25”.

The court then observed that the petitioners have not been able to prove any azaan cannot be offered without using loudspeakers.

Additionally, the court noted that it had not been informed of any permissions being taken for the recital of azaan using loudspeakers, under the Noise Pollution Rules.

It observed that if any such application is filed before the authorities, it may be dealt with in accordance with the law.

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