Last month, as part of a bid to promote religious pluralism on campus, Duke University’s iconic, 200-foot-tall Duke Chapel was going to be the site of a series of calls to Islamic prayer to be broadcast on Friday afternoons.
That plan was rescinded at the last minute after massive public outrage.
But wait! There’s so much more! An impressively thorough investigation in The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, shows that employees of Duke Chapel’s Christian and interfaith ministries came up with the idea to transmit the Islamic call to prayer on the campus.
The Christian-hatched plan was formulated back in September because, advocates for the sounding of the Muslim prayer call proclaimed, the stately Duke Chapel has traditionally accommodated events for a diverse array of religious groups and student groups.
“The idea of a call to prayer from the Chapel tower is just a continuation of what already has been,” Luke Powery, dean on the Chapel, told The Chronicle.
The plan was for the broadcast was to allow students to ascend to the top of the Chapel. They would chant for about a minute. They would face Mecca, of course, the birthplace of Muhammad and Islam’s holiest city.
The plan also involved a “$12 RadioShack speaker” to amplify the chant, Larry Moneta, a Duke administrator.
“As we understood it, it was very, very small and not likely to be disruptive in any way,” Moneta told The Chronicle.
The backlash against the call-to-prayer broadcast was harsh. A local and national firestorm erupted.
Richard Hays, the dean of Duke Divinity School, called the plan “ill-advised” in a public letter dated Jan. 15. He claimed no one had told him about it or asked his opinion.
Hays sagely noted that Christians living in places where Islam is pervasive are forbidden from using mosques for religious purposes. (RELATED: ISIS-Affiliated Extremists Behead 21 Egyptian Christian Hostages)
Campus debate about the call to prayer stunt “should take into careful account the perspective of millions of Christians living in Islamic societies where their faith is prohibited or persecuted,” Hays wrote, according to the student newspaper.
Conservative Christian evangelist Franklin Graham had called on donors and alumni to “withhold their support from Duke” because of the call to prayer. However, school officials are adamant that concerns over losing future contributions from donors and wealthy graduates played no role in the decision to call off the Muslim call to prayer.
“The notion that Duke would do something against its principles because of a donation is foreign to the thinking of this university,” Duke president Richard Brodhead told The Chronicle. “No serious donor of this university would ask or expect such a thing.”
Duke officials had said they were worried about a possible bombing, though it’s not clear that any no specific, credible bomb threat ever actually occurred.
The Islamic call to prayer, known as the adhan or azan, is typically issued five times a day from the minarets of a mosque to summon Muslims for congregational prayer, known as the jummah. (RELATED: Duke University Will Broadcast Islamic Prayer Calls Across Campus)