City of Hamtramck Defends Islamic Right to Broadcast Prayer

When the Ideal Islamic Center moved into its current Hamtramck location on Holbrook Avenue, a short distance from the Hamtramck Senior Plaza; to say the least, heads turned and ears perked up.

It is a condition of the Muslim faith that the Islamic prayer, or Salah, is conducted five times every day. Typically, only mosques are permitted to recite prayer with the aid of amplification; however, Hamtramck municipal workers granted the Ideal Islamic Center (an Islamic youth activity center) the same right.

Carol Marsh, a resident of the Hamtramck Senior Plaza says, “When it first opened up [and] was gonna be an activity center for the Arabic youth, [it was] no problem with me.”

It wasn’t until earlier this year that Marsh felt disturbed by the volume and particular delivery of the prayer, “…now they got a youngster doing the call to prayer a couple times a day,” she says, “And he starts with ‘Hellooo! Wake up! And it’s in the afternoon when a lot of the senior citizens are taking their naps.” Understandably, the city of Hamtramck has placed restrictions on the volume of Salah broadcasts. Yet to the dissatisfaction of Carol Marsh and her fellow senior citizens, an independent study has confirmed that the volume of the prayer is in fact consistent with city-mandated decibel restrictions.

The initial ruling on Hamtramck’s noise statute occurred in 2004, with a special provision approved by voters for the allowance of amplified Salah. The essence of the decibel dispute comes down to the disjointed chain of command that receives and resolves complaints regarding the call to prayer.

In every other incident involving a noise complaint, a call is made to the police who are dispatched to the reported location and are responsible for resolving the conflict. Instead, in the case of Salah broadcasting, complaints and incident reports are directed to Hamtramck’s city clerk, and consequently funneled to Hamtrack’s city council. This misconnection and miscommunication lends an unnecessary political spotlight to Hamtramck’s Islamic population and confounds authorities as to the appropriate method of legal enforcement.

Hamtramck Chief of Police Max Garbarino and his department weigh in on the dilemma: “We don’t really have a horse in this race; we’re actually not in the process for complaints. We’re just trying to do our best to mediate it…I prefer to handle it personally and what I’ve been trying to do is just smooth it over the best I can.”

Though mediation can be difficult especially when two radically different cultures are sharing spaces in close proximity, Carol Marsh is quoted as saying, “…all of a sudden one Friday we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from but the loudness. We were looking up like we were looking for flying saucers.”

Garbarino continues by claiming that complaints have mounted proportionately with the increase of amplification, “There wasn’t really a whole lot of mosques of Islamic centers actually broadcasting. But as time progressed and the city acquired more mosques and Islamic centers, the call to prayer spread.” This increased frequency, and allegedly increased volume has certainly caused some disturbance among certain citizens; yet, Garbarino says he and the rest of his department have been specially prepared to resolve these types of conflicts: “…we’ve kind of been raised on it. As long as I’ve been here the community has been diverse. For myself and all of my officers…our careers have grown in this community so it’s just second nature to us.”