One grumble in 100 years: City to probe mosque 'noise complaint' after Ramadaan

A single noise complaint centering around the Muslim call to prayer, which has been made from Zeenatul Islam Masjid in District Six for the past 100 years, will be investigated after the holy month of Ramadaan.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien on Monday said it had engaged with the committee of the mosque in District Six and respected its request that it continue engaging after the fast.

"District Six is a diverse community and the City respects the right to practise any religion. Residents moving into the area are reminded of the rich cultural heritage that the area is synonymous for," Badroodien said.

It was legally compelled to investigate the noise complaint a resident lodged with the police.

The Muir Street mosque committee, in a statement, said the athaan (call to prayer) had been "rendered audibly by the best means available" since its inception in 1919.

"This continued through District Six's establishment in Cape Town as a vibrant community and continued through the forced removals. The call to prayer still exists today and the masjid (mosque) has become part of the social fabric of the greater Cape Town area, together with the churches that remain and were also resistant to the apartheid government," it said.

"Places of worship is integral to the fabric of District Six and this diversity has spread to the rest of the world"

"The different calls to worship by mosques, churches and other places of worship is integral to the fabric of District Six and this diversity has spread to the rest of the world. Cape Town – the birthplace of Islam in South Africa 325 years ago – prides itself as an embracing city of many cultures and faiths. The athaan needs to be understood in this context."

According to the committee, the athaan, ringing of church bells or any other call to worship could not be considered noise.

"The masjid accepts that the City of Cape Town is obliged to process the complaint. However, this masjid will be embarking on a path to engage [it] to review its by-law that deals with noise pollution. The masjid believes this is significant, not only for the Muslim community, but all faith communities of Cape Town at large."

District Six Civic Association chairperson Asa Salie refused to believe that any of the 139 District Six "returnees" would have lodged such a complaint.

The identity of the complainant was not known, Salie said.

What about the real pollution in our environment?

"Either way, the City should not even have entertained it. So many by-law infringements go ignored. What about the real pollution in our environment? The area is a mess," she charged.

Nelson Mandela's eldest grandson Mandla Mandela – himself Muslim - on Monday called for the scrapping of "insensitive noise by-laws" as they "perpetuate the privileges of a few elites for whom the symbolism of the athaan and the constitutional provisions of religious freedom, honour and dignity have no meaning".

"The Muir Street mosque and the other mosques and churches in District Six are historic symbols of our people's resistance against the brutal apartheid regime. We will not allow them to silence the athaan or any other religious symbol such as church bells as for decades it was a powerful reminder of the resistance of a community that was displaced and ravaged by the Group Areas Act," he said.

"These symbols are powerful reminders of a time when we as a community stood as one and when imam, sheikh, pastor, bishop, rabbi, chief and swami defiantly marched arm in arm for our liberation and freedom. Today, 25 years into our democracy we will not countenance that our hard-won freedoms be taken away or compromised by a lone objector."

'An affront to freedom of religion'

The ANC in the Western Cape said all that was left as a reminder of what was once a vibrant community were the people who returned to District Six and its places of worship.

"Despite the disgraceful eviction of thousands of residents from District Six and their forced resettlement on the Cape Flats, many returned on Sundays to attend their family church, or on Fridays to worship in mosques, such as the place of prayer known to many as the Muir Street mosque.

"In returning to worship in what the National Party government had declared a white group area, these former residents were stating that they had once lived there and would not let go of their heritage," Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs said. 

He argued that the complaint was an "affront to freedom of religion, an exercise in intolerance and a slap in the face of our legacy".

"People who move into what are traditionally black or coloured areas must take cognisance of our traditions and not try to enforce change. We call on the City of Cape Town to dismiss this complaint."

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