The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil liberties organization in the U.S., on Tuesday afternoon urged members of the City Council to pass the proposed ordinance allowing mosques to broadcast the adhan or Islamic call to prayer.
“The Islamic call to prayer is an integral aspect of a Muslim’s five daily prayers. Like church bells, it summons worshipers to enter the prayer space, to turn one’s body, mind and spirit toward God,” said Selaedin Maksut, executive director for the New Jersey chapter. “We applaud Paterson officials for taking this admirable step toward inclusion and encourage them to pass the proposed ordinance. Their open-mindedness to such laws is a concrete demonstration of respect and mutual understanding between the residents of our rich and diverse communities.”
Council members will consider the ordinance for preliminary approval on Tuesday night.
Some council members said they received numerous phone calls and emails to oppose the measure.
“I believe in letting people worship how, where, or what they may, if any, all according to their personal beliefs,” said Stephen Bauer, who has lived in Paterson for 18 years, in an email to the mayor and council members. “Amending the Paterson Noise Control Ordnance to accommodate public calls to Prayer 5 times daily, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is unreasonable and imposing.”
Under the ordinance, mosques will be allowed to use loudspeakers to announce the call to prayer during a 16-hour span. The ordinance states: “The city shall permit ‘Adhan’, call to prayer’, ‘church bells’ and other reasonable means of announcing religious meetings to be amplified between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. for duration not to exceed five minutes.”
Councilman Shahin Khalique introduced the measure last Tuesday. Council president Maritza Davila asked if there was any opposition to the measure after a three-minute discussion. None of her colleagues opposed the measure.
Some council members, prompted by the phone calls and emails, appear to be shifting their stance.
Councilman Luis Velez wanted the vote on the measure postponed after Bauer’s email on Tuesday morning. He changed his mind after speaking with Khalique in the afternoon. He said Khalique is presenting a revised version of the ordinance tonight.
“I want to hear from the community,” said councilwoman Lilisa Mimms. She said council members should have a thorough discussion before passing the measure.
Mimms said she has received phone calls from people urging her to oppose the measure.
Mayor Andre Sayegh has struck a neutral tone on the measure. He has said he would like to hear from residents on the ordinance.
Paterson has approximately 30,000 Muslims. It has a dozen mosques scattered throughout the city. Presently, mosques make the call to prayer five times a day; however, the sound is not amplified outside the buildings.
Late last year, Khalique, who is up for reelection in May, promised local leaders he planned to introduce the measure modeled on an ordinance in effect in Hamtramck, Mich. At the time, Khalique said he had been in discussions with other members of the City Council to get the measure passed. Khalique has styled himself as a pious and devout Muslim amongst his mostly Bengali-American supporters. He suffered a blow to his image earlier in the month when it was revealed he had been arrested for intoxicated driving by New Jersey State Police in 2010. Some of his critics say he is attempting to burnish his image by getting the measure passed.
Council members will consider the ordinance for preliminary approval at 7 p.m. at City Hall. If it passes, a public hearing and final vote will be held at a later date.
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