Friday, July 09, 2010

Fatwa decrees vuvuzela haram above 100 decibels

A fan sounds the vuvuzela in Kimberley, South Africa. In the UAE, the instruments have sold steadily since the tournament began. Fernando Vergara / AP Photo

It’s a bit of a blow. The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments’ fatwa number 11625 has decreed that, above 100 decibel levels, the vuvuzela, clarion call of the World Cup, is haram. Will this spell the end for the loved – and loathed – trumpet?

ABU DHABI // Three weeks ago, most people had never heard of the vuvuzela. Now, many wish they never had.

For players and fans alike, the plastic trumpet, whose drone has been likened to a swarm of bees, has become the unmistakable background sound to South Africa’s World Cup.

Some – including no less a figure than Archbishop Desmond Tutu – have defended the instrument, but many have grumbled that its blare drowns out the crowd’s terrace chants, robbing matches of atmosphere. Players, meanwhile, say they cannot hear each other on the field.

Television companies the world over, swamped by viewer complaints, have scrambled to find ways of cutting out the sound, with limited success. And yet, in every country, there they are.

Wherever supporters gather to watch the World Cup, a section of the crowd is invariably found, tootling enthusiastically along.

But now, just days before Holland and Spain settle the tournament in the 2010 World Cup final, the UAE’s General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments has finally issued its ruling. If they are loud enough to damage hearing, vuvuzelas are haram. According to fatwa number 11625, the horns can be used only in stadiums if they pose no harm.

“However,” the ruling declares, “importers and traders ... must ensure that its power is not over 100 decibels so as to avoid damaging people’s hearing.”

The authority based its decision on a study that found human hearing could be damaged if exposed to more than 100 decibels.

In some cases, it said, the horn could cause permanent damage. “The vuvuzelas in the markets now could produce sounds reaching 127 decibels,” the statement decreed.

The National’s own specimen vuvuzela easily maxed out a sound level meter, which can record up to 126 decibels. Even the quieter horns, rushed out after the first wave of complaints, are only 20 decibels less noisy – still over the limit.

The authority added that, even if football stadiums were loud, fans must not harm others with their noise. “In any case, authorisation of the use of such horns is at the discretion of relevant authorities,” it concluded.

The legislation puts an end to Dhia el Din’s plans to import them into the UAE. At the start of the tournament, seeing an opportunity for profit, he ordered 10,000 of the instruments from a company in the UK. But negative publicity after early matches compelled the Abu Dhabi-based Palestinian businessman to look into the matter. He was alarmed to find the horn could spread disease and even be haram.

Raising the issue with the Islamic Affairs Authority, he received no immediate reply. Still, he was concerned enough to cancel his order.

He was worried to discover that the horns had originally been used by African shamans and witchdoctors. “I searched on the internet and found some articles regarding it,” he said. “I found out that they were used to bring out devils.

“Not only that, they are unhygienic. They can transmit diseases like influenza and other things. All these things made me stop.”

Not all traders have been so circumspect. In Soccer Circus at Mirdif Shopping Centre in Dubai, the Dh29 vuvuzela has sold steadily since the tournament began.

“It is mainly kids and teenagers buying them,” a spokesman for the store said.

The only downside was that customers couldn’t wait to use them. “They blow them very loudly around the children’s play area,” he said.

Until England’s 4-1 trouncing at the hands of the Germans, red and white vuvuzelas had been the best sellers, he added.

“The English colours were very popular, but this has changed throughout the tournament according to who has gone out.”

Shavira Singh, a South African, imported 2,500 horns after the tournament began. “A few friends asked me if they could get one, but nobody knew where they could get one from,” she said. “I called a few friends in South Africa and went into partnership with a local businessman to import them.”

She sold her entire stock to Emarat, which has been selling them in its petrol stations. “They wanted 5,000 but it was hard to find them. I could only get 2,500 imported into the UAE.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ms Singh is philosophical about the din they create. “It is actually a very annoying sound but if it sells, it sells.

“It is part of the 2010 World Cup, and is something fans can keep and remember it by.”

eharnan@thenational.ae