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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: A wake-up call to prayer for Duke

About two weeks ago, Duke University announced plans to broadcast the traditional Muslim call to prayer, the adhan, every Friday over the loudspeaker of its campus chapel.

Campus administration rescinded the decision within days, citing a “credible and serious security threat” — apparently serious enough that the local FBI office was informed.

This “security threat” was nowhere near the only backlash that the university faced. A cynic might question whether the (very real) threat to university funding from conservative reactionaries would have had the same result, with or without the anonymous terror threats.

Either way, the situation raises important questions about the role of religions, particularly minority ones, on college campuses.

About 700 of Duke’s 15,000 students identify as Muslim. These Muslim students have been holding prayers in the chapel basement for several years, but they were not the ones who requested that the prayer be broadcast. Rather, the plans came from the university administration itself in an effort to promote religious tolerance and pluralism on campus.

Cue the conservative freak-out.

At the eye of the right-wing rage storm was Franklin Graham, a well-known evangelical Christian and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who gave several vocal statements on the issue.

“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,” he argued in a Facebook post, “Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism.”

He followed this statement with a call for donors and alumni to withhold support until the decision was reversed. When Duke did withdraw the plans, he publicly praised them.

Graham’s comments reflect a wildly incorrect view of the role of Islam in America. While extremist groups have certainly targeted Christians abroad, the vast majority of Muslims consistently condemn these acts, and none of this violence has actually occurred in America.

Furthermore, the idea that Christian students on college campuses are experiencing more discrimination than Muslim students is, quite frankly, laughable.

As Omid Safi, the director of the Islamic Studies Center at Duke, stated in a Facebook rebuttal to Graham, “Spare me […] Spare me the paranoia of a wealthy white male Christian who talks about being marginalized in America.”

It’s frustrating that Graham and his sympathizers don’t see the irony of projecting the actions of a small subset of a group onto the whole. Despite statements from organizations such as the North Carolina Council of Churches in support of the broadcast and of religious pluralism, the media’s focus on Graham and his rhetoric will likely only reinforce stereotypes of Christians and Muslims as being fundamentally unable to get along. Moreover, the vitriolic emails, phone calls and threats made against the university by the angered public are strangely reminiscent of the extremism the same people are condemning, though, obviously, on a less violent scale.

There was no reason for the anger here. It didn’t do any favors to any of the parties involved. It reflects stubbornness and an unwillingness to think outside the box that shouldn’t be encouraged on a university campus.

“[The adhan] can be a beautiful reminder for all students to pray … to be conscious of how God has been acting in their lives and give thanks,” said Sister Elizabeth O’Donnell, pastoral associate at the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center at the University of Arizona.

Merely listening to the adhan forces no one to convert, but it could be a jumping-off point for cultural dialogue and religious pluralism on college campuses. If the racism and Islamophobia displayed in this incident are any indication, this dialogue is something that America sorely needs.


Maddie Pickens is an economics freshman. Follow her on Twitter.

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