By Jeff Brumley
This story has been updated from an earlier one posted before Duke University announced its changed policy.
Baptists, if no one else, should not have opposed Duke University’s decision this week to allow a Muslim student group to chant the Islamic call to prayers on Fridays at the university chapel, a Baptist theologian and scholar said today.
The decision, which was reversed late Thursday afternoon as controversy about it spread across the nation and social media, was a way of living the separation of church and state where every American has freedom to exercise faith and conscience, said Curtis Freeman, research professor of theology and Baptist studies, and director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.
“I think that is something Baptists would want to uphold,” Freeman told Baptist News Global.
But there are plenty of people who saw it differently.
Franklin Graham took to social media Wednesday to blast the school.
“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 said on his Facebook page.
“I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed,” Graham wrote.
The Duke policy would have allowed members of the Duke Muslim Students Association to chant a call to prayer on Fridays, according to Duke Today.
The chant is called the “adhan” and announces the start of the group’s jummah prayer service. The service has been held for at least six years in the chapel basement on Fridays at 1 p.m., the publication said.
“The adhan is the call to prayer that brings Muslims back to their purpose in life, which is to worship God and serves as a reminder to serve our brothers and sisters in humanity,” Imam Adeel Zeb, Muslim chaplain at Duke, told Duke Today. “The collective Muslim community is truly grateful and excited about Duke’s intentionality toward religious and cultural diversity.”
Freeman said Christians should be grateful as well because the development is a sign of broadening religious liberty — not just at Duke, but nationally.
“Whatever’s happening at Duke, the larger cultural issue is how to have freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience, where we don’t have privilege and establishment of Christianity over other communities of faith,” Freeman said.
But the outpouring of vehement opposition to the now withdrawn policy has its ties to larger cultural issues as well, he added.
The Muslim extremist attacks this week in France, together with rising anti-Islamic tensions across Europe, have added to the distrust Americans already harbor toward the faith.
“I think here in the U.S. there are anxieties among some Christians about these same things,” he said.
But Americans must contend with the reality that the U.S. is not a Christian nation and has never had a federally sanctioned church, Freeman said.
It would also be helpful if people realized that the university chapel where Muslim and other religious groups meet is not a Christian church. It is used by Christians — and by the university— for various purposes.
“It’s not the Divinity School chapel,” Freeman said. “This is the university chapel.”
Adhan at Duke Chapel: A call for hostility or hospitality? By Wesley Spears-Newsome, currently a student at Duke Divinity School.
Redemption at Duke Chapel, By Eric Howell, a Texas pastor and a 2000 graduate of Duke Divinity School.