Admittedly jarring in light of the recent tragedies in Paris and Nigeria was the news that on Fridays at noon the Muslim call to prayer will be chanted and broadcast from atop the Duke University Chapel bell tower. Having travelled through the Middle East, I know the call to prayer well. To my ears it is a strange, exotic chant, evoking warm memories of Syria’s streets before they were turned to rubble in their civil war.
At first, it seems bizarrely out of place in the Gothic Wonderland of Duke’s campus. Having studied at Duke, I know this chapel well . . .worshipped there many times and prayed in the cool dark corners before many exams to be taken at the Divinity School, under the shadow of the bell tower. The chapel itself is one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in America and worship there is sublime.
Apparently Franklin Graham was jarred by this news as well. He has issued an Evangelical twitter fatwa against Duke, calling for donors and supporters to cease until the call to prayer is silenced. While I can understand the immediate reaction against Duke’s decision and see some of the theological concerns it raises, I want to suggest ways the Duke community, and by extension, all of us formed by this place, especially as Christians, may find deep goodness in this, perhaps redemption.
First, it is an act of hospitality to the Muslim Student Association for whom the prayer is the beginning of afternoon prayers taking place in the basement of the chapel. If we think it’s hard to be a faithful Christian in these days, try being a faithful Muslim. I was in rural North Carolina on September 11, 2001 and in the tense, painful weeks following. I know the corner-store math: Muslim=terrorist. We know intellectually that’s not true at all, though with New York, Paris, Nigeria, Syria, and other places in view, we do well to embrace tangible witness to this; and so an act of hospitality in the face of easy labels is a gesture of truth and kindness to those faithful, peaceful Muslim friends who are each bearing a weight they didn’t ask to carry.
Second, we remember the call to prayer is not a call to jihad and not something to fear. It is actually a call to their Friday prayer in the basement of the chapel in recitation of the singularity of God, who is One. I wouldn’t agree with all that is recounted in the call to prayer, but I’m not above being called to my own prayer by words that are not exactly what I would pray. That the prayer intrudes into our hectic mid-afternoon and interrupts our business day aspirations is a welcome reminder of the presence of the interrupting God who punctures the thin veneer of our secularism, “You were here all along and I never knew you.”
Third, each Friday at noon, as the call to prayer echoes, we have a moment of solidarity with Christians everywhere . . . In Syria and Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and all places who hear the call to prayer five times per day. Some of those Christians live in fear for their lives for their faith, yet we here can easily forget them. Let the call to prayer be a call to prayer for all persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and reminder that Christianity, for most of its practice, has been a minority presence as Islam is here. Let us lament religious persecution anywhere and pray for peace everywhere.
Let mercy lead and may love be the strength of our hands. May the Lord be with you, Dookies and us all.
Note: After this opinion piece was written, Duke University reversed its decision to allow the weekly call to prayers.