After coming home from my classes at Duke Divinity School yesterday, I noticed that Duke Chapel would be hosting a Muslim call to prayer every Friday afternoon beginning this week. The adhan is an integral part of Muslim worship practice and happens far more frequently in public in predominantly Muslim areas. The decision gave me some pride in my institution, but I did not give it much of a second thought. However, this morning I woke up to see it plastered all over news sites and social media. Some Christians were positively outraged at the decision.
Franklin Graham began the lambasting with absurd and offensive comments about Muslims. Graham claimed “followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law,” associating all Muslims with the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda. A simple role-reversal illuminates the absurdity of such a claim. Would you like all Christians to be defined by the worst of their kind? Graham also asserted that Duke allowing a call to prayer was support for terrorism.
Numerous other claims have arisen via social media and news outlets that deserve a hearing not for their logic but frequent utterance. A cursory glance over Twitter will reveal a few tweets of support for Duke Chapel and the university, but many more Christians asked if Duke would find it just as appropriate to call Christians to prayer via the “tower.” The “tower” in question, many apparently fail to realize, is Duke Chapel. Duke Chapel is not only the site of inter-religious chaplaincy on campus but also the worship space of an active Christian congregation. Weekly, the congregation at Duke Chapel meets to worship and often hosts prominent Christian preachers. The bells in the tower sound a Christian call to worship often and even play hymns some afternoons. All of this very prominent Christian activity happens on a largely secular campus.
Any claims that Christian religious freedom is restricted or diminished because of the new Friday adhan find their refutation in the massive Christian cathedral at the center of West Campus (and the exclusively Christian seminary across from it).
As a Christian, and specifically as a Baptist Christian, I applaud the decision to allow an adhan each Friday on campus. For many Muslim undergraduate students who do not have vehicles due to parking issues at the university, I imagine it is difficult to get to a place of worship on Fridays. This problem does not occur for privileged Christians who can attend Duke Chapel if they wish. The simple addition of one adhan to life on Duke’s campus is a small gesture to the Muslim community that is difficult to find objectionable. My faith has a history of experiencing difficulty in securing places to worship. It would therefore be extraordinarily hypocritical of me to get in the way of others’ worship. Baptists specifically should be supportive of the extension of religious freedoms to minorities, as it is an integral part of our history — not to mention our theology.
Beyond such a particular commitment, I find it helpful to reverse the roles in the situation. If, in a context where Christians were the minority, Muslims afforded Christians an opportunity for public worship using their resources, it would be a significant gesture of hospitality. In a world where religious differences frequently make the news as a source of violence and oppression, such ordinary acts by ordinary religious people would be a witness to the world for both faiths. Instead of finding something repulsive in the adhan, Christians should mark it as a moment of pride and peace. In response to the evils committed around the world today in the name of their faiths, here is an instance of Christians and Muslims coming together in hospitality instead of hostility. I think that is something to celebrate.
Note: After this opinion piece was written, Duke University reversed its decision to allow the weekly call to prayers.