I’ve always been known as a heavy sleeper. My mom tells me that it’s because when I was a baby, her and Dad hadn’t completely gotten over their youth yet and took me everywhere they went – parties, restaurants, Shabbat dinners – and there was no such thing as “be quiet, the baby is sleeping.”
As such, I grew up able to handle any sleep disturbances that are thrown at me. Earthquakes? Check. Tornadoes? Check. Hurricanes? Check. The 5am Adhan?
October 26th, 2016, 5am. I’m three days into jet lag after returning from the holidays spent with my family abroad. I start to hear a noise so loud it sounds like an alarm. After waking up in a daze, I realize it’s the Muslim call to prayer coming from East Jerusalem.
I had spent three months in Israel, two of which were spent in Jerusalem. Until then, I had never woken up from a call to prayer. Did it disrupt me every Thursday at precisely 12:30pm, right in the middle of my weekly Ulpan quizzes, such that I had to stop in the middle of it for about five minutes and then rush to complete the rest after it became manageable? Absolutely. Was I able to get used to it? Definitely. But this time was different.
I posted a pretty angry status in my rage (it’s very hard to wake me up, but when you do unexpectedly and for a stupid reason, feel my wrath), which after a few clarifying edits, read like this:
Does the call to prayer HAVE to be blared at my dorm at full volume at 5am? Ugh how obnoxious, if you want to pray set an alarm ffs. I’m still jetlagged and struggled to fall asleep, and have to wake up for class at 7. This is literally the least considerate thing I’ve ever seen.
I lost 15 Facebook friends that day, more than I lost throughout the entire U.S. election. People called me every name in the book, including racist, Islamophobic, and bigoted. I was accused of being a Jewish supremacist, of infringing upon Muslims’ freedom of religion, and asserting my Jewish colonial hegemony upon the good people of Palestine. Interestingly, none of these folks were Israeli, though many were Jewish. Since when did Islam get a special status of being a sacred cow, uncriticizable? Why did these diaspora Jews who have no idea what I go through every day, who are perfectly okay with insulting the Rabbanut, orthodox Judaism, fundamentalist Christianity’s stronghold on the United States, and the Israeli settlements, suddenly turn their critical thinking off when Muslims are involved? “They are an oppressed people of color!” a now-ex friend PMed me. “Since when does having melanin absolve you from waking me up at 5 in the morning and disrupting my desperate attempt to get over jetlag?” I replied. I was quickly rebuked as a racist and unfriended.
What she didn’t understand was that if a Jew was blowing the shofar that loud at 5 in the morning, I would complain just as loudly, if not louder because I would be embarrassed that he is making my people look like asshats with no concern for others’ sleeping schedules.
Meanwhile, while I thought I was crazy and made to feel by the comments that my sudden awakening had randomly turned me into a colossally racist jerk that makes Donald Trump look like Mother Theresa, I woke up to find out that my Israeli friends were even more pissed off than me. They too had been awakened by the muezzin. In fact, as the day went on, I received more and more private messages sent by much lighter sleepers telling me how much of a nuisance the call to prayer is, and how they haven’t been able to sleep properly since they moved to Jerusalem. “Buy earplugs!” my friend whispered in my ear when she spotted me on the way to class. Earplugs? Should I be forced to wear earplugs in my own home because something beyond my control is being disgustingly inconsiderate, that a simple noise ordinance can fix?
Throughout the school day, people were talking about the particularly loud call to prayer the night before everywhere I turned. Even Muslims were complaining, or telling me that it’s funny I’m complain because they live right there, or that their dad or grandmother or uncle complained to the imam and they made things quieter for a few days just to push their limits more and more and more until someone else from the community complained. A vicious cycle, which I cannot help but see as a way for Islam to assert its dominance in a place where it lost it in the most humiliating of ways. It’s their way of regaining their sovereignty and control over the land, since they cannot control our government or military, they instead strive to control the noise we hear, such that every Jerusalem resident wakes up with a reminder of Islam’s supremacy over all religions. I don’t think that every mosque is doing it to annoy the Jews, but some definitely are, Muslims themselves have admitted it to me. After all, I haven’t heard the call to prayer this loud anywhere else in the world, even in the Muslim countries I visited with my Canadian passport.
The next few days, I had trouble falling asleep. Just as I was about to nod off at 4 in the morning – yes, FOUR AM – the adhan (call to prayer) would be played over the loudspeaker again, and I would be roused once more, only to settle into sleep mode around 5:30 once all ten zillion mosques within a 30 mile radius stopped playing their staggered adhans, sounding like a zillion echoes in the distance, a cacophony of voices in my head. This happened almost every day until about a week ago, and I still have not gotten over jetlag, three weeks later.
I thought about people like my mother who have suffered from insomnia for years. If a heavy sleeper like me is having trouble, imagine how bad it must be for people like her. She shouldn’t have to go on sleeping pills, which can be dangerous, due to something that most of the world’s countries strictly limit.
The keyword is limit. I had never intended nor implied that I wanted the call to prayer banned. In fact, sometimes I even find it beautiful. However, it is anything but beautiful when it is blaring through a loudspeaker, causing your eardrums to reverberate the shahada for hours afterward, at four in the morning.
In recent years – literally the last few decades – mosques started amplifying their sound with loudspeakers to noise levels that didn’t exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. While I understand the necessity of loudspeakers to play over the sound of bustling traffic, airplanes, and general city noise during the daytime, in the early hours of the morning when you can hear a pin drop, the amplification is nothing but a nuisance. So I don’t oppose the call to prayer, indeed I feel it is an important part of the multicultural fabric that makes Jerusalem unique, I only take issue with the combination of the amplitude of the call and time it is played at, which I find extremely inconsiderate to the 90+ percent of Jerusalem residents who don’t wake up this early every morning to pray.
The problem can so easily be avoided, but religious freedom is a touchy topic in holy Jerusalem. The terror groups that control many East Jerusalem neighborhoods eagerly use anything and everything they can as ammunition to mobilize their people against the Jews. Cracking down on a phenomenon that could easily be solved with earplugs is not worth the risk, or so the Knesset has decided time and time again. But finally, the Knesset determined in the wake of that particularly loud adhan that enough was enough.
On November 7, rumors swirled that a handful of mosques in Jerusalem were told to tone it down. And this morning, the problem made its way to the Knesset.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he supports a bill to bar mosques from using loudspeaker systems for the Muslim call to prayer, and pointed to similar restrictions in European and even some Muslim countries as justification for the move.”
As expected, this move was twisted into an outright lie to incite the Muslim world against Israel and Jews:
“The Muslims, the Jews, and the Christian are all suffering from this,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have approached me, from all walks of Israeli society, who are crying out about the suffering that is caused by excessive noise reaching them from prayer house announcements.”
See how this totally mirrors my own experience? Bibi also doesn’t want to touch freedom of religion in this country. He wants to allow us all – Jews, Christians, Druze, and less observant Muslims – to have a good night sleep. This will mean turning off the loudspeakers, which is law in most countries where there are Muslims. That way, Islam can be practiced as the Quran intended: respectfully, without coercion, in a way that protects non-Muslims. And part of that protection means allowing me to get over jetlag, once and for all.
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