Call of the Wild

In at least some parts of the United States, the Muslim call to prayer, known as the “adhan” or “azan” (Arabic for “announcement”), is a familiar sound. Perhaps because of the freedom of religion that’s guaranteed by the First Amendment and deeply rooted in American culture, and perhaps also because America has a history of extraordinary religious diversity—with native-born faiths ranging from the Mormons to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Seventh-day Adventism to Scientology—there’s been relatively little opposition to the adhan, even by people who may not be thrilled over the spread of Islam in their towns and cities. 

Since the 1970s, for example, the adhan has been broadcast five times a day from the roof of the American Moslem Society in Dearborn (which has one of the country’s highest populations of Muslims per capita). A mosque in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant began doing the same thing in 1981. 

In 2004, residents of Hamtramck, Michigan (which has been described as America’s only Muslim-majority city), voted to officially allow adhans that were already being broadcast from several mosques. By that point, mosques in Detroit, which surrounds Hamtramck, had also been broadcasting adhans for some time. 

In Minneapolis, which is also heavily Muslim (Democrat Ilhan Omar is its representative in Congress), the Dar Ul Hijra Mosque started broadcasting the adhan in April of last year, after Mayor Jacob Frey issued a permit for it. Two months later, Robert Spencer reported that residents of Culver City in Los Angeles County (the longtime home of MGM) were up in arms about the adhan being broadcast five times a day, beginning at 4:30 a.m., from the King Fahad Mosque. 

But in the United States, anyway, such dust-ups don’t last long and don’t have much of an impact on government actions. Nor have they succeeded in turning the adhan into a major national issue. 

In Western Europe, however, for a number of reasons, the situation is somewhat different—although it varies from country to country. Generally speaking, mosques, even when permitted to do so, have chosen not to broadcast the adhan, or to do so on a very limited basis and at very low volume; when the issue has come up, moreover, there’s been outspoken criticism and national headlines. 

Take Germany. Although mosques in at least two smaller German cities, Gelsenkirchen and Düren, have been broadcasting the adhan since the 1990s, and although I’ve heard it broadcast myself from the central mosque in Hamburg, it was just the other day that the mayor of Cologne “announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques [in that city] to broadcast the call to prayer . . . on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.” Instantly, the project aroused controversy. 

Supporters argued that the bells of Cologne’s famous cathedral and other churches are constantly ringing—why not the adhan once a week? But Daniel Kremer, a journalist for Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper, disagreed, noting that several of the city’s mosques are financed by the Turkish government and that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”  

Why is the adhan a bigger issue for many Western Europeans than for Americans? My guess: since Muslims in Western Europe make up a far larger percentage of the population than their coreligionists in the United States and have exerted more pressure to adjust social and cultural norms to accommodate their own values, many native Europeans view the Muslim call to prayer as one more step on the road to total Islamization; because they’ve had more exposure to Islam than most Americans, they’re more likely to understand that the adhan isn’t just a couple of minutes of innocuous warbling but an aggressive assertion of power and a deliberate slap at other faiths that can only lead to, well, worse. 

The adhan states that “there is no God but Allah.” And it includes the words Allahu Akbar—“Allah is greater”—the same declaration of supremacy and subjugation made by suicide bombers. 

But, as I say, the attitude toward the adhan varies from country to country. In the Netherlands, dozens of mosques have been broadcasting it for years; but British mosques weren’t granted permission to broadcast it until earlier this spring, and in France (which has the largest Muslim population in Europe) it’s rarely broadcast from mosques—although, until 2017, when the practice was banned, large groups of Muslims would routinely stop traffic by spreading their prayer blankets out on busy city streets and kneeling to pray, often setting up loudspeakers beforehand to broadcast the adhan. 

In Denmark, this issue came to a head in May of last year. After a radical mosque in Århus began broadcasting the adhan from loudspeakers on a soccer field (!), the national parliament voted against a measure, supported by three major parties—and by three-quarters of Danish citizens—that would have prohibited its broadcasting in public. 

In Sweden, whose political leaders have bowed and scraped to Islam even more pathetically than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe—and where some church officials have called for churches to install Muslim prayer spaces—the adhan has been broadcast from at least one mosque since 2013. 

In 2018, after Muslims in the city of Växjö applied for permission to broadcast the call to prayer, Fredrik Modeus, a bishop in the Church of Sweden, tweeted that he looked forward to hearing it. 

In Norway, where I live, broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer isn’t illegal, but so far, presumably aware that such a move could be a bridge too far for their infidel neighbors, the country’s 200-odd mosques have made a practice of not taking advantage of this right. 

This may change soon. In Drammen, a city of 60,000 a half hour west of Oslo, the Fjell Mosque is building a minaret and wants to broadcast the adhan from the top of it when it’s completed. Leaders of the mosque defend their intentions by pointing to their religious freedom—even though religious freedom is not exactly a core belief of their faith. 

Inevitably, Drammen residents who oppose the call to prayer are being dismissed as bigots. It makes more sense to see them as people who’ve been paying attention. For Drammen, like every other city of any size in Western Europe, already has its own history with Islam. 

It was in Drammen, for instance, that the Muslim Brotherhood established a mosque in 2015. The Brotherhood’s own documents describe it as pursuing “a kind of grand jihad” in the West, a process of “infiltrating” with the goal of “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within”—the ultimate objective being the victory of Allah “over all other religions.”

(To be sure, if you dare to suggest that a sizable number of Western Muslims share this triumphalist goal, academic “experts” will say you’ve bought into insane right-wing conspiracy theories.)

It was also in Drammen that a Muslim congregation, in 2016, covertly bought the 19th-century Landfalløya Chapel in Drammen. The official purchasers were a married couple, who were used as a front so that the seller wouldn’t know that the plans were to convert it into a mosque. (Great way to establish a trusting relationship with one’s new neighbors.) 

Two years after that, an imam in Drammen was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for committing acts of violence against his wife and three children. Among his offenses: he forced his kids to take daily Islam lessons and to come straight home from school—and if they disobeyed, he beat them. The only thing that’s surprising here is that he was put behind bars for behavior that sounds pretty typical for your average imam. 

Is there anything special about Drammen? No. Like other Western European cities, it has mosques funded both by taxpayers and by Muslim governments. At most if not at all of those mosques, you can hear sermons in which imams praise terrorists and vilify Jews. 

Indeed, it could be argued that, compared to the contents of these sermons, and compared to the felonies committed by increasingly violent Muslim youth gangs in an increasing number of Western European cities, the Muslim call to prayer is no more malignant than a quick chorus of “Singin’ in the Rain.” 

It could reasonably, in fact, be asked: if you invite Muslims into your country, how can you not permit mosques? If you allow mosques, how can you forbid the adhan? Wasn’t the time to shout “no!” when the whole process of mass Muslim immigration started? 

Then again, it’s hard not to experience the adhan as militant, threatening—not just a call to prayer but a territorial claim. It sounds like a battle cry. To hear it is to be reminded that Islam is, yes, a warlike faith, a religion of conquest. 

Western imams may be asking at present for peaceful coexistence, but Islam doesn’t preach peaceful coexistence: it preaches conquest. Recall that it’s illegal to open a church in Saudi Arabia or to own a Bible in Iran. That’s the nature of Islam at its purest. So yes, the campaign to ban the adhan is understandable. 

On the other hand, perhaps it’s best to let them shout the thing from the rooftops whenever they want. Isn’t it better to be reminded as often as possible of the enemy within than to let oneself be lulled into complacency?

About Bruce Bawer

Bruce Bawer is the author of While Europe Slept, Surrender, and The Victims' Revolution. His novel The Alhambra was published in 2017.

Photo: Seabrook Acres, MD, Diyanet Center of America is funded by the Turkish government. iStock/Getty Images

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