The Islamic Studies Center of Duke University was recently surprised to find itself surrounded by controversy over plans to broadcast weekly calls to prayer from its famed chapel for Muslim students. Due to protests and even threats, the call was canceled and instead broadcast over a modest portable speaker on the chapel’s steps, which center director Omid Safi says left him disappointed and ashamed.
“I am disappointed, because I’d like to think we are better than this…better than being intimidated and pressured,” Safi said in an e-mail to the LA Times earlier today. “It makes me sick to my stomach that there are those in the world who find it appropriate to make recourse to violence—even threats of violence—to justify their means.”
Campus security and press were present for the downsized call to prayer along with several hundred supporters. University Imam Adell Zeb expressed his gratitude to those present, saying, “We are so grateful to everyone who has shown support.”
The Imam told those assembled that he and Muslim students of the University would respond to those who had made threats and anti-Islamic statements with prayer, “because that’s what Muslims do.”
After the call went out over the loudspeaker in both English and Arabic, the Imam invited those assembled to pray if they liked. “If you want to pray…that would be OK. We would greatly appreciate that,” he said.
Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, explained that the University’s attempts to foster a more religiously tolerant and inclusive atmosphere by broadcasting the prayer were met with an embarrassing level of hatred, even by those outside the school.
“The level of vitriol in calls and messages from those who have no connection to Duke was intense, and even horrifying,” Schoenfeld said. “We received serious and credible concerns about safety and security.”
Schoenfeld says that, “Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students…. However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”
Among those railing against the University’s attempts to promote inclusion were Franklin Graham, the notoriously less tolerant son of evangelist Billy Graham. In light of recent attacks by Islamic extremists, which have since been condemned by Muslims around the world, Graham ironically continues to demonstrate how his own religion can be twisted into a vehicle of hatred and fear.
“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,” Graham wrote on his Facebook page.
While Graham’s post drew a number of supporters, including one woman who said that the call to prayer plan was “Satan kicking into high gear,” others pointed out that religious tolerance is far from a declaration of war on Christianity.”
“Not all Muslims belong to the Taliban, ISIS, or Al Queida!” one user said, “I’m very strong in my Christian faith, I attend my Moravian church every Sunday, and I can still respect any persons whether of Islam, Judaism, Atheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever it be… Jesus Christ came down to be a part of the common man, he didn’t display any form of superiority over any person, and you shouldn’t either.”
Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean for religious life at Duke University Chapel, wrote in an op-ed this week, “At Duke University, the Muslim community represents a strikingly different face of Islam than is seen on the nightly news: one that is peaceful and prayerful.”