Duke Backpedals On Allowing Muslim Call To Prayer In Bell Tower

Jan 16, 2015
Originally published on January 16, 2015 7:57 pm

At Duke University on Friday, students gathered on the lawn outside the campus chapel to listen to the Muslim call to prayer. But it did not come from the chapel bell tower. Earlier this week, the university said Muslim students could use the bell tower — but then backtracked after getting threats.

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At Duke University today, students gathered on the lawn outside the campus chapel to listen to the Muslim call to prayer, but that prayer did not come from the chapel bell tower. Earlier this week, the university said Muslim students could use the bell tower, but then backtracked after getting threats. Reema Khrais, of member station WUNC, reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAYER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

REEMA KHRAIS, BYLINE: Hundreds of people stood on Duke University's campus today in the shadow of a 210-foot gothic chapel. That voice is coming from a wireless speaker in front of the chapel. Had things gone differently, the chant would have come from the top of the bell tower, not the bottom. Imam Adeel Zeb is Duke's Muslim chaplain.

IMAM ADEEL ZEB: I would be more happy if it happened the original way. I think many in the Muslim community would be more happy about that. At the same time, from my theological point of view, things happen according to what God wants to happen.

KHRAIS: Duke reversed course yesterday. Initially, the private university said Muslim students could give a three-minute prayer from the chapel bell tower every Friday. But then came the threats, says Duke spokesman Mike Schoenfeld.

MIKE SHOENFELD: They were serious. They were credible, and there's something that is very important for the university to recognize.

KHRAIS: There are more than 700 people on Duke's campus who identify as Muslim. Duke had one of the first university imams in the country. Schoenfeld says this weekly event was supposed to be about unity.

SHOENFELD: Both the number and the tone of the call - just sort of random, over the transom calls that were coming in were pretty loud and pretty nasty.

KHRAIS: One of the loudest was from evangelist Franklin Graham. He's the son of Reverend Billy Graham. Here he is on WSOC TV in Charlotte.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: We as Christians are being marginalized and Islam, which is not a religion of peace - there's nothing peaceful about Islam at all, just look at the Middle East.

KHRAIS: On Facebook and on TV interviews, Graham urged donors not to support Duke. The university says it didn't bow to that pressure, but some students think otherwise. Back in front of the chapel, hundreds of people stood by the Muslims, including Indhira Udofia. She's a master's student at Duke's Divinity School and a Christian.

INDHIRA UDOFIA: Even if I may not understand the fullness of the Islam faith, it does not mean that I'm not called to be hospitable and be open and welcome those type of experiences here.

KHRAIS: Ahmad Jitaan is a Duke alum and a former president of the Muslim Student Association.

AHMAD JITAAN: I hope that Muslim students on campus are able to stand up for themselves and show that we can be visible on this camp. We can feel safe on this campus, and also to tie that struggle with all the other struggles going on in the United States right now for other marginalized communities.

KHRAIS: On campus, people are worried about Duke's handling of the situation and what it means to religious freedom at universities across the country. For NPR News, I'm Reema Khrais in Durham, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.