Duke University has reversed itself, and announced Thursday afternoon it will not allow a Muslim call to prayer Friday from its iconic cathedral.
The decision had met with widespread controversy.
“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” said Michael Schoenfeld, 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.”
Members of the Muslim community will now gather on the quadrangle outside the chapel before moving to its regular location for prayers, Duke said.
The move to authorize the call to prayer from the chapel had roiled social media and led to a denunciation from evangelist Franklin Graham.
The three-minute chant by members of the Duke Muslim Students Association was to have been “moderately amplified” via a speaker system in the Duke Chapel’s bell tower, the university said.
Word of the move this week by the private university in Durham quickly swept through many social media outlets. Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, took to Facebook to urge people to withdraw financial support of the university until the policy is reversed.
“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 Facebook Wednesday.
In an interview Thursday with The Observer, Graham said Duke should not allow the chapel to be used for the call to prayer. “It’s wrong because it’s a different god,” he said. “Using the bell tower that signifies worship of Jesus Christ, using (it) as a minaret is wrong.”
Graham, president and CEO of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, did say Muslim students should be allowed to worship on campus. “Let Duke donate the land and let Saudi Arabia build a mosque for them.”
And referencing the recent terrorist attacks in France, Graham added, “Islam is not a religion of peace.”
Mohammad Banawan, administrator at the Muslim American Society of Charlotte, decried Graham’s statements, saying, “Those comments are trying to incite hatred.”
Banawan said it is wrong to criticize an entire group over the actions of a small number of extremists, no matter what their religion.
And Twitter has seen people praise and pillory Duke.
One person tweeted, “This #Duke alum hopes current Duke students visibly refuse to submit to Islam tomorrow at 1 p.m.” Another wrote, “Today I am thankful to be an alumna of #Duke and proud of their continual efforts in supporting all expressions of faith on their campus.”
Earlier this week, in an op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer, Christy Lohr Sapp, the university’s associate dean for religious life, defended the move.
She said the university’s Muslim community is a peaceful and prayerful one, the opposite of how Islam is seen on the nightly news.
“This opportunity represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke’s mission and connects the university to national trends in religious accommodation,” she stated.
The 210-foot-tall Duke Chapel, built in the mid-1930s, is available for all campus religious life groups to hold their prayers and worship services.
The Muslim community has been holding prayers in the chapel basement on Friday afternoons for two years. Duke students plan to do the chant, called the “adhan,” to announce the start of their weekly prayer service.
On its Facebook page, the association said it is committed to fostering campus and community-wide engagement with Islam and related issues.
“The collective Muslim community is truly grateful and excited about Duke’s intentionality toward religious and cultural diversity,” Imam Adeel Zeb, Muslim chaplain at Duke, said in a statement.
More than 700 of Duke’s 14,850 students identify themselves as Muslim, according to the university. Duke hired its first Muslim chaplain in 2009, the same year it created the Center for Muslim Life at the university.
Duke University was created in 1924, an expansion of what was then Trinity College. Duke’s primary religious affiliation is with the United Methodist Church, but the school officially is non-denominational.
Staff researcher Maria David contributed.