Søknaden fra Central Oxford mosque i East Oxford om å få rope til bønn tre ganger om dagen vekker sterke følelser, både fra lokalmiljøet og nasjonalt. Motstanden springer ut av en følelse av å bli invadert.
Oxford er kjent som universitetsby, men har også bilfabrikker med en variert arbeidsstokk. Byen har 150.000 innbyggere. Det bor bare 6.000 muslimer i East Oxford. Rundt 700 av dem ber i den nye moskeen som snart står ferdig. Det umiddelbare nabolaget er middelklasse, mens muslimene bor noe lenger borte. Naboene frykter at lyden må være høy hvis de troende skal høre bønneropet.
De lokale muslimene forstår ikke helt hvorfor reaksjonen er så sterk. Men flere sier de har følelsen av at dette er en symbolsak. Hvis tillatelse gis til bønnerop vil man passere en grense.
Senior members of the Oxford Central Mosque are seeking permission to broadcast a two-minute Adhan, the traditional Muslim call to prayer, through loud speakers in the minaret three times a day.
However, rather than being welcomed as a sign of multi-culturalism, the proposal has outraged many East Oxford locals.
There are dire warnings of «Islamic dictatorship» and the destruction of Western culture. The ethos of Christianity is being undermined, some argue. If it starts here, they say, where will it end? Others just don’t want the noise disturbing them.
The Muslims say they simply want what they see as their right as British citizens to practise their faith.
The argument against the plan has two threads to it. Charlie Cleverly, the rector of St Aldates Church, said allowing the broadcast of a call to prayer is «un-English» and would create a Muslim ghetto in the city. He said it was not like the «neutral» Christian call to prayer of the church bell.
«When such an area is subject to such a call to prayer, it may force people to move out and encourage Muslim families to move in,» he said.
«You do risk a kind of ghetto-isation of the city a few years down the line.
«I don’t think the people of Oxford want to hear a call to prayer to Allah in the same way people don’t want someone loud in their face asking them to buy coffee.
The Bishop of Oxford has entered the fray appealing for calm
The Bishop of Oxford has appealed for tolerance
«Bells are just a signal and have been around for 1,500 years. They are a terribly English part of our culture. I do not believe in the imposition of another culture on our country.»
The other difficulty locals have is more mundane. The mosque is close to the area in East Oxford where many of the city’s 6,000-strong Muslim population – a small percentage of the city’s 150,000 inhabitants – live.
However, it seems to be half a mile too close to the city centre. The immediate surrounding area is a mix of Edwardian and Victorian houses and is unashamedly middle class and predominantly white.
The local shops include estate agents, beauty parlours and hairdressers. Protesters say that within a half mile radius are 16 places of Christian worship.
Most Muslims live at least half a mile away.
Locals say they will be able to hear the call to prayer three times a day.
However, will those who live a mile or more away be able to hear it? And if they can, will the loudspeaker volume have to be so high it will shatter the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood?
Mark Huckster, a local doctor, said: «The proposal to issue a prayer call is very un-neighbourly, especially in a crowded urban space such as Oxford.
«I have lived in the Middle East and a prayer call has a very different feel to church bells. I found the noise extremely unpleasant, rather disturbing and very alien to the western mindset.»
Samantha Mandrup said: «I see this as a matter of civil liberty, noise pollution, and infringement of privacy.»
Det lokale parlamentsmedlemmet ber de muslimske lederne tenke seg nøye om. Det er farlig å trumfe bønnerop gjennom hvis motstanden er massiv. Det kan skape unødige motsetninger. Men de muslimske lederne forstår ikke hvorfor protestene er så sterke. De mener seg å være i sin fulle rett.
But there is a feeling that if this proposal is granted, a line will be crossed.
Andrew Smith, the Oxford East MP, urged the mosque’s leaders to consult fully with the local community so that a «common sense» solution could be found before putting in an application to the council.
Work on the £2 million mosque started seven years ago and is due for completion later this year, although it is operating with 700 regular worshippers.
Leaders will approach the Liberal Democrat-run Oxford city council with their application.
Munir Chisti, the Imam, said: «Everyone is welcome to think what they want and we welcome anybody to have their say. This was a suggestion that has spread like fire and caused panic in the community. We do not want that to happen.»
Sarder Rana, the mosque spokesman, said he did not understand what the fuss was about.
«We have many people, including Christian clergy, in our favour, but some people who do not understand what it is about are opposing it.
«If they come to the mosque we will explain to them. There is nothing in the words that is offensive and we would like people to respect our religion just as we respect every religion.
«We agree this is a Christian country but we live here as British citizens and it is our right.»
Bønnerop oppleves av mange som mer dominerende enn kirkeklokker. Hvis det skal ropes fra minareten har islam triumfert over kristen kultur, sies det.
«It seems to me this is a move to torment and torture non-Muslims,» he said.
«It’s not a matter of people’s right to religious freedom, it’s about making Islam the religion of public space – getting into people’s houses and work places.
«If this is granted it will show that Muslims have the upper hand in a Christian country. The letters we have had in from all over the country about this have moved from a scale of stiff upper lip outrage to murderous fury.
«We see an element of Islamic dictatorship being introduced and an aggressive minority trying to seize the middle ground.»
The Bishop of Oxford has called for tolerance, urging people to «enjoy our community diversity».
He urged people to be «as respectful to others as you would hope they would be to you.»