Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Did Duke University Bow to Christian Supremacists in Canceling Muslim Call to Prayer?

Duke University Chapel (Connie Ma)

Duke University Chapel (Connie Ma)

Duke University has cancelled a planned weekly Muslim call to prayer over security concerns and after one of the nation’s most powerful Evangelical Christian leaders called on alumni and donors to withhold financial and other support.

The Washington Post reports the prestigious private university in Durham, North Carolina announced Thursday that it would no longer allow the ‘adhan,’ or call to prayer, to be broadcast from a loudspeaker atop the Duke University Chapel bell tower on Fridays.

“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

Schoenfeld said one of the reasons the university cancelled the ‘adhan’ involved a “serious and credible” security threat.

Omid Safi, director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, confirmed to the Post that there have been “a number of credible threats against Muslim students, faculty and staff.” Safi said the threats originated from outside Duke’s campus and that the school is “treating this as a criminal matter.”

Safi added that Muslim students are “scared and disappointed” and have been advised not to identify themselves.

Intense pressure from Christian supremacists, led by the influential Franklin Graham, was a key factor in the cancellation, WYFF reports. Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham and CEO of the international Christian charity group Samaritan’s Purse, spearheaded a #boycottduke campaign in which he called on Duke alumni and donors to withhold financial support for the university if it proceeded with the ‘adhan.’

Upon learning of the planned call to prayer, Graham, who has called Islam an “evil and wicked” religion, issued a series of scathing Facebook attacks on Islam, a closely-related Abrahamic religion with its own supremacist tenets:

Duke 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.

Graham also posted:

While the world’s eyes were on terrorist attacks in France, Islamic militant group Boko Haram slaughtered thousands of innocent people in Nigeria. Reports say that, tragically, there are ‘too many bodies to count.’ They even used a 10-year-old girl as a suicide bomber. Boko Haram’s stated goal is to impose strict Islamic Sharia law. Pray that global leaders will have courage to stand against this evil and that this bloody reign of Islamic terror will be ended.

Graham’s religious outrage seemed selective; he made no mention of the ethnic cleansing of Muslims perpetrated by Christian militias in the Central African Republic, a campaign the United Nations called a “crime against humanity” in which thousands have been slaughtered.

In a Thursday interview with NBC Charlotte, Graham attempted to explain his opposition to the call to prayer by falsely claiming that Christians and Muslims worship a different ‘god.’

“I have a problem taking the chapel that was built with donor money to be a place of worship, to worship the god of the Bible, and the Muslims do not worship the same god that we worship,” Graham said.

Graham’s campaign, called “Islamophobic” by critics, drew widespread and growing support among US Christian supremacists, especially Evangelical sects.

“@DukeU will never have my support or money ever again and I will cheer against them for their support of these inbred Muslims #boycottduke,” tweeted fashion photographer Brent Allen.

“Withdrawing my application because of this ordeal. I can’t trust an institution that chooses political correctness over its founding principles,” prospective student Ken Po posted on Graham’s Facebook page.

“God bless you Franklin Graham,” agreed elementary school teacher Carol Whitaker. “The only way to the Father is through the Son,” a reference to the Christian supremacist belief that only people who accept Jesus Christ as their “lord and savior” will be with ‘god’ in ‘heaven’ after they die.

Conservative media predictably howled foul over the planned prayer call, with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade telling Muslim viewers, “If you do want to pray at the right time, you can get a watch.”

But there were also many voices in favor of the Muslim call to prayer. In announcing the planned ‘adhan,’ Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean for religious life at Duke University Chapel, wrote in a Raleigh News & Observer editorial that the call to prayer “represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke’s mission.”

“Perhaps… this small token of welcome will provide a platform for a truer voice to resonate: a voice that challenges media stereotypes of Muslims, a voice of wisdom, a voice prayer and a voice of peace,” added Lohr Sapp.

“So sad that the university backed down rather than standing tall in the face of bigotry and hatred,” Duke alumnus Charlene Reiss wrote on the school’s Facebook page. “I was so proud of my alma mater yesterday and so ashamed today,” she wrote about the university’s reversal.

“I really hope that we as an academic community… can reflect on how to eliminate Islamophobia, and all types of racism, from our time at Duke and ultimately from our lives,” Duke junior Nourhan Elsayed, one of approximately 700 Muslims out of around 15,000 university students, told the Duke Chronicle.

There was a Muslim call to prayer at Duke’s chapel on Friday but it was not broadcast from the bell tower. Duke Today reports hundreds of Muslims and their supporters, including students, faculty and members of the community, attended. Participants sang “Stand By Me” before prayers, with some people holding signs expressing support for religious tolerance.

“The message is Duke is continuing to warmly embrace the campus Muslim community and expressions of different religious faith,” Rev. Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, told reporters prior to the ‘adhan.’ “We will continue to show a generous hospitality on campus.”

Some critics noted that under Islam, certain historically repressed groups, including women and gays, are not shown that same “generous hospitality.” Indeed, Islamic—as well as Jewish and Christian—holy texts and teachings chronicle or endorse the killing, subjugation and oppression of women, gays, non-believers and others, both by ‘god’ and ‘his’ earthly followers. The holy texts of all three Abrahamic religions also endorse slavery, which was a common practice in ancient times.

The Duke University of the 21st century is non-sectarian, although the school has historic and symbolic links to the United Methodist Church, as well as to the Quakers. It amended its mission statement last year to declare that the university’s purposes are “grounded” in the “Christian tradition of intellectual inquiry and service to the world.”

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