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Mosques aren’t causing noise nuisance in District Six. But is it disturbance?

The Zeenatul Islam Masjid, situated in Muir Street, was built in 1923, and since then it has sounded the adhan - or daily call to prayer - as mosques around the world do.

FILE: The religious structures including two mosques and several churches were the only buildings that were spared when District Six was demolished. Picture: EWN

CAPE TOWN - A mosque in District Six has been at the centre of a furor over the way local and provincial government views "noise."

The Zeenatul Islam Masjid, situated in Muir Street, was built in 1923, and since then it has sounded the adhan - or daily call to prayer - as mosques around the world do.

But earlier this year, a resident in the area lodged a complaint about the adhan, which the City of Cape Town investigated.

A "technical measurement test," found the sound is under the level of "disturbance," as it is marginally under seven decibels (the level of measurement for a disturbance – in accordance with Western Cape Noise Regulation and the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989).

But a second non-technical assessment, conducted by a City official found it to still be a "noise nuisance.”

Mayco member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien explains: "It is not a reasonable person test as the media has been referring to, there's a technical test in terms of the noise disturbance and a non-technical expert opinion in terms of the noise nuisance."

One can say a “disturbance” can be scientifically measured according to law, while a “nuisance” is subjective testing.

According to the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989, a noise nuisance is "any sound which disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person."

The act does not exclude religious sounds, like the adhan, though: "No person shall... except in an emergency, emit a sound, or allow a sound to be emitted, by means of a bell, carillon, siren, hooter, static alarm, whistle, loudspeaker or similar device, if it may cause a noise nuisance."

Badroodien says the City of Cape Town is working on changing its by-law related to noise, to exclude religious sounds like the call to prayer.

"The policy unit has begun the process of identifying these stakeholders who need to be involved in the amendment or the review of this by-law because it is of a transversal nature, not only Community Services but it involves Safety and Security, there's a Spatial Planning element to this as well, so that we are able to address and clarify, and avoid any future ambiguities within the by-law as it currently stands."

But the official says the provincial regulation and national act need to be reviewed as well, to make for a more inclusive and tolerant society that's truly accepting of all cultures and beliefs.

In the interim, the mosque leadership is hoping the City will drop the complaint altogether, but this is unlikely to happen with the "noise nuisance" finding.

City officials are meeting with the mosque leadership to find a middle ground, but Badroodien is clear: the municipality will not ask or expect the mosque to stop the adhan.

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