RIYADH (Dispatches) – Saudi Arabia’s Islamic affairs minister is defending a contentious order restricting the volume of mosque loudspeakers, saying it was prompted by complaints about excessive noise.
In a major policy last week in a country home to the holiest Muslim sites, the Islamic affairs ministry said the speakers should be set at no more than one-third of their maximum volume.
The order, which also limited the use of loudspeakers mainly to issue the call to prayer rather than broadcasting full sermons, triggered a conservative backlash on social media.
Islamic Affairs Minister Abdullatif al-Sheikh said on Monday the order was in response to citizens’ complaints that the loud volume was disturbing children as well as the elderly.
“Those who want to pray do not need to wait for … the imam’s” call to prayer, al-Sheikh said in a video published by state television.
“They should be at the mosque beforehand,” he added.
Several television channels also broadcast prayers and Quran recitals, Sheikh said, suggesting the loudspeakers served a limited purpose.
In a country home to tens of thousands of mosques, many welcomed the move to reduce the decibel levels.
But the decision also stirred resentment on social media, with a hashtag calling for the banning of loud music in restaurants and cafes gaining traction.
The policy follows de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s sweeping liberalization drive, which has pushed a new era of ‘openness’ in parallel with what observers call a de-emphasis on religion.
The development comes as the kingdom has arrested dozens of women activists, clerics, journalists as well as royal family members over the past three years.
An unclassified U.S. intelligence report concluded Prince Mohammed approved of and likely ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who wrote critically of the crown prince and his policies, was murdered by a team of Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His dismembered body has never been recovered.