Duke University has canceled its plans to have a Muslim prayer announcement broadcast from Duke Chapel’s belltower on Friday afternoons.
The university announced its plans to facilitate a weekly call to prayer; but on Thursday, Duke officials acknowledged the decision resulted in unintended backlash. A Duke official told WNCN the school changed its mind after it was “presented with some significant and credible concerns about safety and security.”
“The idea was conceived with the best of intentions and the greatest of intentions to create unity,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. “It turned out to have the opposite effect and it was actually creating divisiveness that was neither intended nor valuable.”
The initial plan was to broadcast a weekly call to prayer from the chapel’s bell tower starting Jan. 16. The prayer service would then take place in the chapel basement.
The university said it will instead welcome members of the Muslim community to gather on the quadrangle outside the chapel, before moving to its regular location in the chapel basement.
“They apparently bent to pressure. It’s a slap in the face to Muslims, not just to the students there but to the Muslim community of Raleigh and to Muslims in general,” said Khalilah Sabra, with the Muslim American Society. “At this time, we should be trying to build something together.”
The chant was intended to announce the start of the Duke Muslim Student Association’s prayer service, which the Muslim chaplain at Duke said “brings Muslims back to their purpose in life.” However after the school announced the weekly broadcast, the university’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments.
One commenter said they had “totally lost respect for Duke University.”
Another said that the university is a “… center for political correctness,” and that it’s “just plain bizarre that [they are] going to do an Islamic call to prayer.”
The plan also drew the ire of evangelist Franklin Graham, who urged Duke alumni to withhold support because of violence against Christians that he attributed to Muslims.
Graham told WNCN he felt the school “was making a huge mistake.”
“First of all, this chapel was given by donors, Methodists, from across this state and other areas, so that there would be a Christian chapel on the campus so that the students would have a place to worship the God of the Bible,” Graham said. “What I have the problem is using the chapel that was built to be a house of worship — to worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God — that they’re using this now so that they can put loud speakers and use it as a minaret.”
Graham is the head of Samaritan’s Purse and the son of evangelical Billy Graham. He said other religions “are getting front row and Christians are being pushed … to the back of the room.”
“And we’re the majority,” Graham said.
Duke, a private school, was founded by Methodists and Quakers and has a divinity school historically connected to the United Methodist Church. Duke has roughly 15,000 students, including 6,500 undergraduates. The school said about 700 students are Muslim.