In Indonesia, calls for change to mosque loudspeakers
JAKARTA: For Beringin Kusuma whose living quarters are only a short distance from a mosque, the Muslim month of Ramadan is not only a time for fasting, but also for plugging his ears before bed every night.
Year-round, like most urban dwellers in the world's largest Muslim nation that boasts 800,000 mosques, the 22-year-old university student has to contend with the "azan" that begins at dawn and calls worshippers to prayer five times a day.
But during Ramadan the mosques go into overdrive. Their crackling speakers blare out not only the azan, but also calls to worshippers to wake before the pre-dawn sahur breakfast that begins the day-long fast, and Koran recitations that go on almost all day and night.
"It's worse during Ramadan," complained Kusuma, who for the past three years has lived in a rented room only 20 metres (65 feet) from the closest mosque.
In Indonesia, Ramadan - a time of year when Muslims forgo food, drink and sex between dawn and dusk - started on July 21. Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the fasting month, falls on August 19. Dates may vary elsewhere.
But while it is regarded as one of the most spiritual periods in the Islamic calendar, for many it is also the most noisy.
"Most people wake up just before 4:30 am for a quick sahur, but the speakers start calling the people to wake up at 2:30 am ," said Kusuma.
"They repeat it many times, along with Koran recitations - and then comes the azan at dawn," he said.
Kusuma compares the sound to "someone screaming in my ear" and says he usually tries to return home after 9pm when at least the special evening Ramadan prayers are over.
"If it wasn't for ear plugs, I wouldn't get a wink of sleep during all of Ramadan."
With hundreds of thousands of mosques in this nation of 240 million people, most city and town dwellers are accosted every dawn by the intermingling cacophony blaring out of three or four mosques, each broadcasting its own azan.
For some people - especially non-Muslim foreigners unfamiliar with the routine and naive enough to rent a place without checking the distance from the closest mosque - it can all be too much.
Two years ago, an American running a guesthouse near a mosque on the tourist island of Lombok snapped during a prayer reading and yanked the wire connecting the speaker. He was sentenced to five months in jail for blasphemy.
Anita Rizki, a 22-year-old secretary at a private hospital in Jakarta, said the mosques were bad enough throughout the year, but became impossible during Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. (...)