Muslim Duke Student: 'I Hope We Can Be Visible'

Jan 15, 2015

Updated Friday 7:00 p.m.:

Hundreds of people stood on Duke University’s campus today in the shadow of a 210-foot Gothic chapel, listening to a wireless speaker that sat on the steps of the entrance.  

Had things gone differently this week the chant would’ve come from the top of the bell tower – not the bottom.

“I would be more happy if it happened the original way. I think maybe the Muslim community would be more happy about that,” said Imam Adeel Zeb, Duke’s Muslim Chaplain. “At the same time, from my theological point of view, things happen according to the way God wants them to happen.”

Duke reversed course on Thursday. Initially, the private university said Muslim students could give a three-minute prayer in Arabic and English from the chapel bell tower every Friday. But then came the security threats, said Duke spokesman Mike Schoenfeld.

“They were serious and they were credible, and it’s something very important for the university to recognize,” said Schoenfeld.

'I hope that Muslim students on campus are able to stand up for themselves and show that we can be visible on this campus.'

There are more than 700 people on Duke’s campus who identify as Muslim, and Muslim student life has only been growing. Duke had one of the first university imam’s in the country. For years, Muslim students have been gathering at the basement of the chapel for both the prayer and the call to prayer. 

Schoenfeld said the weekly call to prayer from the bell tower was supposed to be about unity. 

“Both the number and the tone of the sort of the random over-the-transom calls that were coming in were pretty loud and pretty nasty,” he said.

One of the loudest was from evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the reverend Billy 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,” said Franklin Graham recently on WSOC TV in Charlotte.

Students and supporters made signs prior to the call-to-prayer Friday.
Credit Reema 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, a master’s student at Duke’s Divinity school.  

“Even if I may not understand the fullness of the Muslim faith, it does not mean that I’m not called to be hospitable and open and welcome and those types of experiences here,” she said.

Ahmad Jitan, a Duke Alum and a former president of the Muslim Student Association, said he was troubled by Duke’s decision.

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

Muslim students and supporters listen to the call-to-prayer from a small speaker on the steps of the chapel.
Credit Reema Khrais

Duke University News covered the event:

Updated Friday 3:03 p.m.:

WUNC's Frank Stasio talked about the call-to-prayer issue with a variety of guests including Omid Safi, Director of Duke's Islamic Studies Center. Listen:

Updated Friday 12:00 p.m.:

WUNC's Reema Khrais is at a Duke University press conference. We will have a report soon. In the meantime, she is tweeting:

Updated 3:58 p.m.: Duke University press release states the University has reconsidered the decision to allow the call to prayer to be broadcast from the bell tower.

The call to prayer, or “adhan,” which announces the start of a weekly jummah prayer service that has been held in the Chapel basement for the past several years, will not come from the bell tower on Friday as announced earlier.

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University vice president for public affairs and government relations said, “[I]t was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

Read the press release>>

Updated 3:11 p.m.: Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Rev. Luke Powery, Dean of Duke Chapel, about the decision to start the call at the university:

Updated 3:00 p.m.:

Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Baptist minister Billy Graham posted this on Facebook:

Duke University announced today that they will have a Muslim call to prayer from their chapel bell tower every Friday. As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism. I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed.

Our original story:

Duke University Chapel
Credit OZinOH / Flickr/Creative Commons

Duke University has made a decision to allow Muslim students to conduct an amplified call to prayer from atop the Duke Chapel bell tower.

"The chant lasts about three minutes and will be moderately amplified," according to a statement.

Christy Lohr Sapp is Associate Dean for Religious Life at Duke University Chapel in Durham. In an op-ed in the News & Observer she writes that there is an acknowledgement of the negative press "focused on parts of the Muslim world."

"Yet, at Duke University," she writes "the Muslim community represents a strikingly different face of Islam than is seen on the nightly news: one that is peaceful and prayerful. This face of the faith will be given more of a voice as the Duke Muslim community begins chanting the adhan, the call to prayer, from the Duke Chapel bell tower on Fridays beginning this week. It will be chanted by Muslim students prior to the jummah prayer service that takes place in the chapel basement each Friday afternoon." >>Read the full article.

Sapp notes that the "opportunity represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke’s mission. It connects the university to national trends in religious accommodation.”

The decision is trending around social media sites in a big way.

Her are some comments from Twitter:

"Great show of religious freedom (which is what our country is founded on) Great job Duke!" tweets one.

"Weekly Muslim call to prayer to sound at Duke University More capitulating. The sound of Satan. WHY?" asks another.

"I wonder how Duke or atheist would feel if Christians wanted to recite the lords prayer once a week?" tweets a third.