An ordinance allowing mosques to broadcast the adhan or Islamic call to prayer received preliminary approval from the City Council on Tuesday night.
Council members voted 7-0-2 to approve a revised noise ordinance presented by councilman Shahin Khalique. The ordinance states, “Calls to prayer, including the Adhan, are exempt from the noise ordinance.” A previous iteration of the ordinance allowed calls to prayer from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The revised ordinance does not include a time restriction.
Khalique’s introduction of the measure last week led to a large number of phone calls, text messages, and emails to council members from people opposed to the measure.
Council president Maritza Davila said she was inundated with emails and text messages. “The amount of things I saw on social media was so sad. It truly was disheartening,” she said.
“There’s a lot of controversy going on out there,” said Khalique. He attacked mayor Andre Sayegh for encouraging people to appear before the council to give their opinion on the ordinance.
Sayegh struck a neutral tone on the issue. He has refused to take sides on the ordinance that Khalique’s critics say is a ploy by the 2nd Ward councilman to burnish his image ahead of the May municipal elections. Khalique suffered a blow earlier in the month when it was revealed he had been arrested for intoxicated driving by New Jersey State Police in 2010.
Khalique said the call to prayer amounts to 15 minutes in total a day. He argued ice cream trucks and vans spreading political messages make noise hours on end. “The decibel level is not changing. I don’t see anybody having any issues with this ordinance.”
Municipal officials said the call to prayer still has to adhere to existing decibel limits. Officials said the adhan cannot exceed 80 decibels.
“This ordinance here has taken a nasty turn that I’ve never seen in the city of Paterson. We all rave about the diversity; we all rave about how welcoming our city is, but when push comes to shove, I saw a lot of people’s true colors,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz. “This ordinance has been masked as some sort of takeover by the Muslim community when it’s not.”
Abdelaziz said the measure adds religious exemptions to the noise ordinance for temples, churches, and mosques. The measure lists “bells, chimes, or carillons” used for religious services.
“It’s a call to prayer for everyone,” said Abdelaziz. “This is not a Muslim thing. It’s an exemption for all religious institutions.”
“That could be striken if it’s a call to prayer for all,” said councilwoman Lilisa Mimms pointing to the word “adhan” in the ordinance. She said she is not opposed to the measure and has good ties to the city’s Muslim community.
Some council members questioned the need for the ordinance.
Councilwoman Ruby Cotton said Masjid Salahuddin on Broadway has been making its calls to prayer for decades.
“I couldn’t understand why we needed to do this if they were not having problems from law enforcement or anything like that,” said Cotton. She represents the area where Masjid Salahuddin is located. She has never received a complaint over the adhan from residents, she said.
Davila said the mosque could have received a ticket.
“In another city, they probably would have been ticketed,” added councilman Flavio Rivera.
“We’re solving a problem that didn’t exist until now,” added councilman William McKoy.
Councilman Luis Velez suggested the measure violates the U.S. Constitution. He read out loud the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Law director Farrah Irving said the ordinance before the council mimics existing New Jersey law.
Velez said the measure is dividing Patersonians against each other. Paterson is home of 52 different ethnic groups. Its Muslim community is approximately 30,000 strong.
“The last thing I want to do is divide this community because of religion,” said Velez. He said Khalique’s initial ordinance threw people off.
Roughly two dozen people appeared at the council meeting over the issue. Several people spoke in favor of the measure while one spoke against it.
“Why are you forcing me to hear it?” asked Michael Camacho, a lifelong Paterson resident, referring to the call to prayer.
“As a Muslim, I should be able to call the adhan,” said Al-Hajj Ibrahim Hanif, who is the muezzin at Masjid Salahuddin. Muezzin is the person that makes the call to prayer at a mosque. He said ticketing an organization for calling the adhan amounts to trampling on people’s freedom of religion.
Council members Abdelaziz, Cotton, Michael Jackson, Khalique, Mimms, Rivera, and Davila voted in favor while McKoy and Velez abstained.
“We’ve taken something that is very innocent and simple and made it extremely complex,” said Jackson.
Public hearing and adoption of the ordinance is scheduled for Mar. 10 at City Hall.
Email: [email protected]