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Muslim women gather on the stairs leading to to the Golden Dome of the Rock Mosque in the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on April 30, 2014. / Ariel Schalit, AP

JERUSALEM ?? Five times a day, loudspeakers at the top of nearly 200 minarets in this holy city call to Muslims to pray.

They blare before dawn, and the wailing cry of the muezzins, or prayer callers, can be heard for miles.

Though it is a Middle East tradition that goes back centuries, some in this ancient city say the practice should give way to modern ordinances against excessive noise.

"From the time she was born until she was nearly two, my daughter woke up in a panic every night from the call of the muezzin," says Yael Saltoun, who lives in the Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv in East Jerusalem.

Saltoun says neighborliness means not imposing one's religious practices on others. In a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, even a hint of disrespect for one's faith can blow up into a major battle.

"Mosques in Palestine in general and in Jerusalem in particular have been targets of a vicious campaign by the occupation authorities," says Muhammad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem in charge of the city's Islamic holy places.

Hussein says city officials -- whom he calls "the occupation authorities" -- are trying to "efface all Arab and Palestinian landmarks in Palestine and replace them with Jewish landmarks."

In March, the Jerusalem municipality announced plans to measure the volume of Muslim prayers broadcast via loudspeakers to check whether it exceeds noise pollution standards that the law says all residents must abide by.

The pilot study will concentrate on mosques in a part of the city where Muslims and Jews live in close proximity. It was initiated after years of complaints from neighbors who say the prayers, which can be heard across the city's valleys in the early hours of morning, are loud enough to wake them from a sound sleep.

The same issue has cropped up elsewhere, including India, England and Germany. Even a nearly 100% Muslim country like Saudi Arabia has gotten complaints about the muezzins.

But in Jerusalem, the issue of noise is political, and the mere gathering of disparate religious groups can lead to disputes, even violence.

The Temple Mount is the ancient site of the Jewish temples on Mount Moriah that date back thousands of years, and where the faithful say God made a covenant with Abraham to create a nation of believers in Him amid a world of idol-worshipers.

Above the ruins of the temple sits the al-Aqsa mosque, built after a Muslim conquest of the city in the 7th century. It is the site where Muslims say the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

Security and other matters at the Temple Mount are overseen by Israel, but the site is officially administered by the Wakf Islamic Trust, an international Muslim authority that rejects Jewish claims to the site.

The arrangement is a delicate one. Non-Muslims visiting the Temple Mount have sparked shouting and stone-throwing. At the nearby Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, non-Orthodox Jews who come to pray have been assaulted at times by Orthodox Jews.

Last month, hundreds of Palestinians threw stones and firecrackers at Israeli police when the police opened a gate leading to the Temple Mount for Jews and Christians.

The proximity of Jews, Muslims and Christians living so close together "often leads to turf battles, especially at holiday time," says Eran Feitelson, a professor of political geography at the Hebrew University.

The Jerusalem municipality office says the city is simply trying to enforce existing noise pollution laws, and that it is not singling out mosques.

"Jerusalem is a multicultural city which values freedom of religion for every faith," said an official statement from the office. "The municipality maintains constant communication with all its communities and, if needed, will provide the technology needed to minimize noise in the capital's neighborhoods."

The office did not respond to a written query on whether it plans to monitor the noise generated by church bells, for example, or the Jewish prayers broadcast over loudspeakers at the Western Wall a few times a year.

Samantha Knights, a London lawyer who deals with cases involving law and religion, says it is not unusual for municipalities to have protections in law against noise nuisances regardless of the source.

"In a democracy, the state must consider all the interested parties and balance their respective rights in forming a view as to whether any such noise should be restricted," Knights says.

Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, says his authority is "making an effort to minimize as much as possible the use of loudspeakers, which are only used during major events, which are rare."

At the Tayelet, a promenade popular with Jewish and Arab families that affords a panoramic view of the Old City and adjoining hillside, Mohammed Jabber, a Muslim, says that in his mixed Muslim-Christian village outside Jerusalem "there are two churches and one mosque, all of which make noise.

"But everyone puts up with everyone else. We focus on what binds us, not what separates us. That's the definition of neighborliness."

Saltoun says living in harmony does not mean people must put up with a racket.

"This is a democracy," he says. "If I make a ton of noise in the middle of the night, the authorities have the right to stop me. Here, the city fears a backlash and the prayers continue."



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: In Jerusalem, an effort to quiet the call to prayer

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