Duke University Will Be Broadcasting the Muslim Call to Prayer, and People Are Pissed

Starting this Friday, the adhan will be broadcast from Duke's chapel to announce jummah services, and people are NOT happy about it.
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Starting this Friday, the adhan will be broadcast from Duke's chapel to announce jummah services, and people are NOT happy about it.

Duke has just announced that on Friday afternoons, the Muslim call to prayer — known as the adhan — will be broadcast from the university's chapel in Arabic and then in English, summoning the roughly 700 Muslims on campus to prayer. The adhan will be "mildly amplified" so it can be heard across at least parts of the large campus (it's only 8,470 acres) and will last for around three minutes. 

This is further evidence of Duke's commitment to embracing people of all faiths, along with atheists and agnostics. While the university may have originally been founded by Quakers and Methodists, its student body is quite diverse — Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, people of a variety of Christian sects, and all others are welcome on campus. They're also welcome to participate in a variety of religious activities, many of which are hosted at the university's stunning chapel. 

The exterior of Duke's chapel

For a chapel, this is suspiciously cathedral-like, but I'll let it slide. Photo: Danny Fowler, Creative Commons

Those activities have included a jummah service for a very long time, but the adhan is new. Normally issued five times a day, the adhan serves not just as a call to prayer but a reminder to connect with God and all humanity. At Duke, Friday was chosen because of its religious and community significance to Muslims around the world — if the adhan can only be broadcast once a week, the jummah service is the time to do it.

So of course this has conservatives tearing their hair out. 

Before we get into the Sturm und Drang over the adhan, it's worth listening to, if you haven't heard it. 

The adhan or azan can take the form of a sung chant, like this one from Muadin Hafiz Mustafa Özcan of Turkey. It comes in all different forms — and in the Middle East, the strains of the adhan from different mosques can be heard floating across large urban areas. It's a pretty amazing thing to listen to, even if you're not Muslim. There are several different versions, depending on sect, but all serve as an invitation to prayer, a reminder that God is great (the "Allahu akbar" you may be most familiar with), and the reminders that there is no deity except God, and Muhammad is his prophet. Which may not align with everyone's beliefs — but then again, the same claims are made in Christian texts with superficial differences, so.

The university's Muslim chaplain is excited about hearing the adhan on campus, as are many of its Muslim students and alumni — it's a recognition that they have a valuable and respected role on campus and that their faith should be acknowledged. The dean of religious life seconds the enthusiasm, saying that it "represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke's mission." They're hoping that Duke's example will spread to other private colleges and universities that offer religious services, creating more of an environment of inclusion for Muslims in higher education. 

This all sounds pretty good, right? The United States is a nation that offers both freedom of religion and association, and pluralism is supposed to be one of our foundational values. Hooray diversity! Oh, wait. 

Conservatives inform us that this is the, and I quote, "Devil's call to prayer." One conservative website describes the adhan as a "scary, demonic-sounding whine." Scaremongering commentary about "Islamization" and claims that Islam is a religion of hatred abounds (some even twist the meaning of Islam around — it does indeed mean "submit," but in the sense of submitting to the will of God, not to authorities on earth). 

Aside from saying wildly hateful things about Islam, though, people are making claims that...aren't actually true in any way, shape, or form, whipping up sentiment against Duke's move and trying to provoke hostility against the school's Muslim population. 

To my knowledge, Duke has not banned Bibles. If this tweet is referring to Bibles at jummah services, I'm not aware of any such ban — jummah is open to the public at Duke and the Muslim Student Association would probably prefer that people bring Qu'rans to prayer, but no one is going to be checking bags at the door. (More to the point, why would you bring a Bible to a Qu'ran party?)

The subject is, of course, trending on Facebook, the land of people losing their shit at the slightest provocation. 

"As Christian symbols are taken down in public buildings, we will allow THIS?" writes one angry Facebooker. Hate to break it to you, bro, but Duke is a private university. "Next their going to assign prayer rugs and paint the direction to mecca on all side walks." Yes. That is exactly what is coming next. "Forced is the key word here." 

"Can't they do this by looking at a clock? Seems disruptive and unnecessary." Well, yes, strictly speaking, they can, but the adhan is not a glorified watch any more than church bells are. It's a call to prayer and a moment of religious significance and reflection. "So on what day is the weekly call to prayer for Christians?" That would be Sunday. 

"So someone please explain to me how this is OK yet Christian prayers and groups are not?" Ah, yes, because Duke really cracks down on those Christians. Doesn't let a single one pray, conduct services in the university's giant chapel, and doesn't permit Christian organizations and events on campus. 

You get the picture. Inevitably, when accommodations are made to welcome people of one religious faith into a community, the assumption is that those of another religious faith are being pushed out or oppressed in some way. The vast majority of Christians in the United States are perfectly mellow people who are totally down with respecting people of other faiths. Sadly, the loud-voiced minority thinks that it gets to dictate the terms of social and community engagement, and it wants not just to silence the adhan at Duke, but to actively drive Muslims out of the university — and the country. (As though all Muslims are brand-new immigrants and none of them have been here for generations.)

The interior of the Masjid-e Imam

There goes the neighborhood — as you can see, Islam is a religion of hate and ugliness, which is why it produces architecture like this, found in the interior of the Masjid-e Imam in Iran. Photo: Fulvio Spada, Creative Commons

There are also some rumblings that this is "too soon," following the Charlie Hebdo attacks last week. I'd argue just the opposite -- the adhan is a call to prayer but also a call to peace and community gathering, and a welcome to everyone. Jummah services are open to all who are interested, and the campus' Muslim students are active participants in the community and in events that encourage religious exchange, connection, and discussion. Many people (including Muslims) across the world have prayed on behalf of those murdered in Paris last week, and sounding the adhan is a powerful and compelling testimony to the desire to come together as a community to pray, heal, and love one another.

It's deeply insulting to act as though Duke's Muslims condone the horrific attacks committed across the Atlantic and to suggest that they should censor themselves in order to satisfy a handful of conservative extremists — and to link a sacred facet of Islam with violence and hatred. 

I hope that Duke becomes one among many private colleges and universities broadcasting the adhan across campus — it gives me hope that perhaps some day this country can extend welcoming arms to all. 

By the way, in case you're wondering, Duke's carillon is played every weekday at 5 p.m., before and after Sunday services, and on special events.