Duke Still Holding Muslim Services and Call to Pray on Chapel Grounds

Well, if you thought that it was over at Duke you were wrong. Friday, as the school had previously announced, there was a call to prayer. The call did not come from the chapel bell tower, but from the chapel steps. This in some people’s eyes counted as a victory for those faithful to Christ. They felt that it had been inappropriate that they were having a Muslim call to prayer from a Christian chapel. They were right to think it was wrong, but they were wrong to think it was a victory.

As I reported Thursday, the school has hosted the Friday prayer for two years. This prayer, called the jummah, is announced with a song in Arabic called the adhan. According to Christian news, the call to prayer says: “I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshiped except Allah. … I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. … Allah is most great.”

This adhan was still performed, and the jummah was still attended. The Muslims continue to hold services on the grounds of a Christian chapel. Nothing changed. The only real difference is that the Muslim performing the adhan has changed locations. Instead of the chapel tower he will chant on the chapel steps.

The reason for this change is the mass of calls by many of the alumni. There were also threats of violence that the school called “credible.” Meaning, they considered the threat to be real and was not idle. Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, gave this reasoning for the change.

“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” wrote in a statement. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

The issue now is that as we face violence from Muslims around the world, we have people in our society who want to “charm the snake,” as it were. Approximately 100 Muslims attended the jummah Friday. But they were not alone.

According to reports, another 300 non-Muslim supporters arrived. Many of the students were professing Christians. They came out not to pray, but to show that they support the University’s original decision to have the adhan performed from the bell tower.

“Christians are called to be people of peace,” Sarah Martindell, a third-year-graduate student who held a sign that read “Duke Divinity Supports You,” told the Religion News Service. “This demonstrates our solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.”

It was also reported that: “In an impromptu prelude Friday, singer Richard Phillips, a Duke sophomore and a Christian, joined cellist Matthew Bunyi, a grad student and a Muslim, in a heartfelt performance of Ben E. King’s soul classic ‘Stand By Me,’” the News & Observer reported. “Members of the crowd, some holding signs that announced their support for the Muslim students, clapped and sang along.”

I am sure it was both “impromptu and heartfelt,” but for Christians it should be disturbing. As I wrote the original report on this controversy, I could not help but wonder what the founder of the Methodist movement in England, John Wesely would have thought of Muslims holding prayer service in a Christian chapel. I do not think Rev. Wesley would be holding a sign supporting the Muslims. One minister is reported as saying: “I think John Wesley would be turning over in his grave,” one minister told Todd Starnes of Fox News. “This is certainly not the Methodism of John Wesley—a faith that was firmly founded on the Bible.”

I do not know about the turning over in his grave, but he would not be happy. I think he would have wept. God help us.