Duke University cancels Muslim call to prayer from chapel tower after opposition from preacher Billy Graham's son

Authorities at North Carolina institution said they had received credible security threat

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 16 January 2015 15:58 GMT
Franklin Graham called on donors to withhold money until decision was reversed
Franklin Graham called on donors to withhold money until decision was reversed (Reuters)

A leading American university has decided not to allow a Muslim call to prayer be sounded from the campus chapel following a wave of outcry, including a call to donors from the son of evangelical preacher Billy Graham to withhold funding.

Officials at Duke University in North Carolina announced on Thursday that a factor in the decision not to permit the azan, or call to prayer, to be sounded was a credible security threat received by the authorities. Muslim students have reportedly been told not to talk about the decision.

Officials at Duke, located in the city of Durham, agreed last year to allow a weekly call to prayer to be broadcast from the bell tower of the chapel. The decision followed a request from Muslim students, said to number 700 out of a student body of 15,000, and clergy of different faith attached to the university.

But the plan triggered outcry in some quarters, including off the campus.

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, spoke out strongly against the plan on social media.

“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,” he said. “I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed.”

Ibrahim Saber with the Duke Muslim Students Association rehearses the traditional Muslim call-to-prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower
Ibrahim Saber with the Duke Muslim Students Association rehearses the traditional Muslim call-to-prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower (Courtesy Duke University)

Omid Safi, director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Centre, told the Washington Post that the plan to broadcast the azan had been withdrawn because of a number of credible external threats “against Muslim students, faculty and staff”.

He said Muslim students, Mr Safi said, have been advised not to speak and be identified, “and are scared and disappointed”. Asked if he personally had been threatened, he said he had been advised by officials to say “a number of credible threats have been made".

Officials at the university said Muslim students would now gather in a quadrangle outside the chapel and a call to prayer would be spoken from the building’s steps.

Nobody from the university was immediately available for comment. In a statement, a spokesman, Michael Schoenfeld said: “Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students. However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

With no small irony, the announcement of the reversal of Duke’s decision came the same day that an academic attached to the chapel, wrote an opinion piece in North Carolina’s largest circulation newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, that the decision to allow a call to prayer underscored “the religious pluralism” at the heart of the university’s mission

“At Duke University, the Muslim community represents a strikingly different face of Islam than is seen on the nightly news: one that is peaceful and prayerful,” wrote Christy Lohr Sapp, the chapel’s associate dean for religious life.

Mr Graham applauded the decision by the university to reverse its decision. “I am glad to hear that @DukeU reversed its decision to allow Muslim call to prayer from its chapel bell tower. They made the right decision,” he said on social media.

Yet not everyone was pleased. The university’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, said some of the University's Muslim students expressed dissatisfaction with the administration's decision.

“When I first found out, I was really shocked. I didn’t expect this of Duke,” said second year student Sophia Aliza Jamal.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in