Our cities exude a cacophony of sounds. Every day, city dwellers must brave the drone of traffic, the wail of sirens, and the clamor of construction, not to mention pub closing time banter, stadium noise, and the occasional fireworks display. For the most part, noise arising from emergency vehicles, building sites, or social events are considered part and parcel of the urban environment. By contrast, noise from church bells, the call to prayer from a mosque, or other religious buildings may be drowned out in decibel terms by the surrounding hubbub. However, judging by the furor over the recent decision by a mosque in Oxford, England, to obtain permission from the local council to amplify its call to prayer (azan), it appears that noise emanating from religious buildings may be viewed quite differently. The prospect of a muezzin’s call overlaying the peal of church bells in the so-called ‘city of dreaming spires’ sparked national controversy. It echoed an earlier debate that emerged over an ultimately successful application by Birmingham Central Mosque to broadcast the call to prayer in the 1980s.
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