Indonesia's mosques seek "jazz lounge" quality for Ramadan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s mosques are trying to sound their best for the Ramadan fasting month, splashing out on high quality loudspeakers to woo the faithful and avoid upsetting non-Muslims.

A man reads the Koran at Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Beawiharta

With about 800,000 mosques serving the world’s largest Muslim population, the cacophony of calls to prayer from poor quality and poorly synchronised speakers has become an increasing irritation. Senior Muslims, and even the country’s vice president, have questioned whether the enthusiasm might be getting out of hand.

“One complaint includes when there are two or three (mosques) in a neighbourhood and they get involved in a loudspeaker war, trying to be louder than the others,” said Amidhan, a head of the highest Islamic authority, the Indonesian Ulema Council.

Some mosques are responding by seeking smoother sounding speakers. Local company V8sound is trying to tap into that market with its “Al Karim” speakers.

“The purpose of these loudspeakers is so that Indonesian mosques can have a jazz lounge standard,” Harry Kisswoto, the company founder and audio adviser for the presidential palace, told Reuters.

More mosques, he says, are willing to pay the 25 million rupiah price tag for an Al Karim, more than double the price of more commonly used sound system.

The routine use of loudspeakers for five prayer calls a day increases during Ramadan and can include a very early reminder that dawn prayers are coming up.

Analysts say there is a growing desire to show an Islamic identity in a country that has traditionally prided itself on religious moderation. More women are wearing headscarves and mass Koran recitals in big cities are on the rise.

That trend has been accompanied by concern that Indonesian society, where Muslims vastly outnumber any other religious groups, may be turning increasingly intolerant.

“If a loud call was to last only five to 10 minutes, five times a day... we would not object. The five mosques near us, though, begin the morning call to prayer at different times. For 30-45 minutes, the noise is deafening,” Rosie Kameo, from the country’s main Java island, wrote to the Jakarta Post newspaper. (Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Jonathan Thatcher)