Taliban and the Use of Loudspeakers: Why No Mullah Speaks Up?

During Ramadan, worshippers attend mosques to perform the five daily prayers and Taraweeh (special Sunnah prayers involving reciting long verses of the Quran). There is a common misconception that this is the month that draws “non-prayer” people to the assembly and the mosque. Taraweeh is seen as one of the essential rituals of religion, and thus it is often performed collectively. However, there have been complaints from various cities in Afghanistan about the loud sounds of the mosque speakers, which can disturb the peace of those living nearby. Mosque officials have been known to increase the volume of loudspeakers, both day and night, particularly during Ramadan, to recite the Quran, sermons, and preaching to those inside the mosque and in the surrounding houses.

Since the Taliban’s return, the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs has become more active than ever before. It is now stricter in managing mosques than the previous regime. This Ramadan, the Ministry has made a remarkable move by banning the sound of Taraweeh, or congregational prayer, played through loudspeakers. In Kabul, for example, mullahs are not permitted to use loudspeakers unless to call for prayers. Although some mullahs may break this law, most muezzins are compliant and are following the new role announced by the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs.

In many Islamic countries, the Adhan is performed at a designated time. To avoid confusion, some countries use recorded sound which is broadcasted simultaneously through loudspeakers. Recently, Saudi Arabia has urged mosque managers, including those of large and crowded mosques, not to use external loudspeakers even to broadcast Adhan or recitation. This order has been implemented in Afghanistan. As Adhan take place at various times, it can cause chaos. Additionally, in order to secure Islamic rituals and protect the spirituality of Ramadan, mullahs of mosques broadcast recorded recitation of the Qur’an through loudspeakers during the day or night. This creates a strange chaotic situation, as there is an established mosque in every alley of the cities and villages of Afghanistan.

The malfunctioning of mosque loudspeakers has had a direct impact on urban life in Afghanistan, causing distress to patients, children, and those with sound sensitivity. A few years ago, in one of the more affluent areas of Kabul city, a religious leader would recite the Quran with its translation at a high volume between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm. This caused much complaint from the employees of the government and foreign offices located nearby, yet nobody was willing to speak out against it for fear of being labelled an atheist. A young boy also recounted a similar experience, in which the loudspeaker was facing their house and the sound was so loud that they had to pay the leader of the mosque to turn it in another direction.

It is said that the people of Afghanistan are “forced Muslims” in the sense that they do not accept logical and reasonable speech until it is enforced by a coercive force. This myth may be attributed to the long-standing rule of tyranny over many years and in various forms. This “forced-Muslim” spirit of the Afghans can be seen in their different approaches to the laws of the republican and emirate era. During the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the death of millions of people, the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan, attempted to prevent people from gathering in mosques. However, the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs’ approach was so conservative that it made strange recommendations, such as that people should perform Sunnah prayers at home and obligatory prayers in the mosque, despite the fact that COVID-19 could not differentiate between obligatory and Sunnah prayers. Despite the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan’s cautious approach, many mullahs disregarded the law, perceiving it as an attempt to destroy sacred pillars. A mullah in Wazir Akbar Khan area even stated that some people wanted to diminish religious rituals and had conspired to prevent people from attending mosques. However, now that the Taliban have decided not to allow mosques to broadcast congregational prayers, Taraweeh, and Quran recitation through loudspeakers, no one has spoken out against the muffled voice of religion.

The main difference between the Taliban emirate and the republican system is that the former does not take public opinion into account, silences protesters, and does not allow freedom of the press and expression. In contrast, the republican system allowed freedom of speech, and the media could reflect the least public protests, making public opinion meaningful and influential in decision-making processes. The Taliban implement whatever rule they think is right, considering any inconsistency with it as blasphemy and deviance. The absence of free media in the country has further enabled the Taliban to do as they please.

The Taliban have used religious and God’s law as a guide to disarm religious scholars. They have positioned themselves as the enforcers of the law of enlightenment, meaning that the mullahs can no longer demonstrate their superiority over the Taliban and demand the enforcement of God’s law and the protection of religious rituals and sacred things. As a result, whatever the Taliban do is seen as correct, as they are seen as religious scholars and are believed to understand Sharia better than anyone else. When a person who has established himself as a religious scholar is able to use the highest level of violence against his rivals, it is difficult to defeat him; this is exemplified by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, who was asked why he had not spoken out against Ismailism for a while, to which he replied, “They have a decisive and winning argument.” This is similar to the situation with the Taliban.

When the loudspeaker was first introduced to Islamic countries, there was an uproar as many religious scholars deemed its use for Adhan haram. However, over time the situation changed and the opposition to the loudspeaker was seen as a sign of atheism. This has been a common occurrence, where religious people initially oppose a phenomenon, but as it becomes normalized, they consider it to be an essential part of their religion, while inconsistency is viewed as a sign of deviance, depravity, and disbelief.

Religious texts dictate that Muslims should not recite the Quran in a way that causes harm to others, thus reciting it in a high volume is prohibited. However, the people of Afghanistan are so extreme that it gives the impression that they are superior to the prophet and the companions. Pretending to be religious and clinging to spiritual manifestations and rituals is a common practice in this country, where ethics are not valued. All that matters among Afghans is adhering to religious Muslim appearances and demonstrating piety by being in the first line of prayer or wearing a long beard. During Ramadan, unlike other Islamic countries where goods become cheaper, in Afghanistan, retailers increase prices. Furthermore, during Ramadan, the same merchants stand in the first row in congregational prayers and Taraweeh and appoint a reciter to finish the Quran for them in Taraweeh.

In any event, it is a beneficial and necessary action to prevent loudspeakers from functioning during Ramadan. Therefore, despite their negative qualities, the Taliban sometimes implement positive initiatives. However, the question is, if the law was implemented by the republic, how would the religious scholars and clerics react? It is certain that most mullahs would have censured the authorities, inciting the people against them and causing the city to descend into complete disorder. Therefore, why are they silent now? Is it because they understand that the Taliban do what they desire without negotiation and never accept objections and criticism? Would democracy in Afghanistan have an adverse effect?