Rivlin hosts meeting of Jewish, Muslim leaders in Israel over proposed muezzin law

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted a meeting of Jewish and Muslim leaders in Israel, in the wake of public debate over a bill that would mute mosques’ loudspeakers.

“In our lives together there are issues which are very close to the hearts of many of the residents of this country. Jerusalem has always brought together the various voices, the Jewish prayers with the Muezzin’s call to prayer along with the Church bells. I am the son of one who translated the Quran and observed the Jewish commandments, and I recognize the need to tread a fine line,” President Rivlin told those at the meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“I asked to sit and speak with you in order to see if there is a way to tread this line even when there are conflicts. … It would be a shame that a law should be born which touches on the issue of freedom of faith of a specific group among us. Perhaps the voices heard today can be used to pave the way,” Rivlin also said.

The so-called muezzin bill is scheduled for a vote by the Knesset plenum on Wednesday. The bill would limit the volume of the muezzin’s call to prayer and the loudspeakers of all religious institutions during the day and silence them at night.

The call to prayer comes from a minaret of the mosque five times a day, including very early in the morning. In modern times, the mosques use loudspeakers to assist in making the call.

The bill had been opposed by haredi Orthodox lawmakers who feared that it would also prevent the siren that sounds in many communities to herald the start of the Jewish Sabbath.

The chairman of the Joint Arab List party, Ayman Odeh, has called the muezzin bill “racist” and “populist,” and Arab lawmakers have vowed to fight it. The Palestinian Authority has threatened to turn to the international community if the bill becomes law.

Rabbi Aryeh Stern, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, at Monday’s meeting suggested a “joint call for dialogue, which should be issued by the highest Jewish and Muslim religious leadership in the country.” Such a call, he said, could stop the legislation and deal directly with the places where the call to prayer’s volume is an issue.

President of the Islamic Sharia Court Sheikh Abdel al-Hakim Samara, said that the threat of the law causes Muslims to feel that “our freedoms are vulnerable.” He added that : “Solutions can be achieved even without the threat of the law looming over our heads. We all agree there is a need to lower the volume in problematic areas and we will act to ensure this, regardless of the law.”