The performance of religious practices in public spaces has occasionally caused friction in Indian cities. On July 30, the Bombay High Court addressed one particularly vexing source of strain when it asked the city police to take down all illegal loudspeakers attached to mosques in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai.

The court’s directive came in response to a public interest litigation filed by a Navi Mumbai resident against the unauthorised loudspeakers during prayer time at mosques. The court specified that all illegal loudspeakers, whether installed at mosques or at Ganesh or Navratri pandals, should be removed “irrespective of religion, caste or community”.

Even though the loudspeaker issue has been repeatedly politicised in Maharashtra (in 2010, the Shiv Sena had demanded a blanket ban on all mosque loudspeakers after the party was booked for violating noise norms at its Dussehra rally), several Muslim activists came out in support of the court directive.

But the call to prayer being announced on loudspeakers is not the only Muslim practice that some members of other communities complain about. In densely-populated cities like Mumbai, when large numbers of devotees gather to pray their Friday namaz, the congregation often spills out of the mosques and into the streets outside, hindering traffic and pedestrian movements for up to 30 minutes.

For many Muslim activists, this phenomenon is as much of an inconvenience to the public as the loudspeakers. But they believe the government has a greater role to play in helping to solve the problem.

“Nobody really likes to pray namaz outside on the streets, because it inconveniences so many people,” said Ghulam Arif, president of the Qartaba Wisdom Club, a Mumbai-based non-profit organisation that works on social issues. The only reason the practice continues, he said, is because the community is too large to fit into the existing mosques.

“The government could give Muslims the permission to organise Friday prayers in open grounds and maidans near mosques,” said Arif.

The community has been recommending a specific solution to the problem for nearly two decades: allowing mosques to expand by granting them additional floor space index. Increasing FSI  – the ratio of plot size to the height of a building that can be erected on it  –  would mean a greater number of floors to accommodate more worshippers.

In 2009, the state government did grant 50% of additional FSI to religious shrines across Mumbai, which, according to activists, has eased the problem of people praying on the streets to some extent. But this, they say, has not been enough.

“After mosques in Dockyard Road and Bandra were able to add floors, fewer people have been praying outside in those areas,” said Saeed Khan, founder of a non-profit organisation Muslim Youth of India. “Besides, the community has changed over the years and we now have several educated, young volunteers who ensure that the public is not inconvenienced during these short prayer sessions.”

Another problem, says Khan, is that the Maharashtra state government does not give permission to build new mosques easily. “Because of the difficulty in getting these permissions, many Muslim trusts register their mosques as community halls, losing out on certain tax exemptions,” said Khan. Not being registered as a mosque would also mean not being able to avail of the added FSI to increase the capacity of the structure.

“If the government helps Muslims by allowing prayers in open spaces and making it easier to build new mosques, then the problem of people praying on the roads should be solved,” said Rehan Ansari, a journalist with, an online publication for Muslim news. “After granting these permissions, if people are still found to be praying on the streets, then strict action should be taken against them.”