Jan 15 6:59 PM

Duke bows to Christian evangelist, shushes Muslim call-to-prayer

A general view of the Duke University Chapel on Oct. 26, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina.
Lance King/Getty Images

Duke University officials on Thursday canceled plans to allow Muslim students to perform a "moderately amplified" call-to-prayer from the school’s famed chapel bell tower in Durham, North Carolina — an apparent bow to pressure from Christian evangelist Franklin Graham, who warned on Facebook that green-lighting the call would be tantamount to promoting "raping, butchering, and beheading" on campus.

In a statement issued by the university, Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs, explained that the weekly call was scrapped because the controversy it created countered the event’s intended purpose.

"Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students," he said. "However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect."

Graham, son of famed Christian evangelist Rev. Billy Graham and president of his father's namesake ministry, launched an online campaign earlier this week to convince university officials to cancel their plans. He even urged "donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed."

One of Graham’s Facebook posts reads: "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."

While his Facebook posts demanding the call-to-prayer’s cancellation netted thousands of replies, likes and shares, it remains unclear how many people in the Duke community actually supported the effort.

In an op-ed published Wednesday in Raleigh’s News and Observer, Lohr Sapp, Duke’s associate dean for religious life, touted the school’s choice to allow the call as a means of promoting harmony and challenging stereotypes about Muslims.

"With the recent attacks in Paris and Pakistan, and renewed conflict in Nigeria, there is much negative press focused on parts of the Muslim world," she wrote, before adding, "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."

Nevertheless, Graham flaunted the cancellation as a victory.

"I am glad to hear that Duke University reversed its decision to allow the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast from its chapel bell tower," he wrote on Facebook. "They made the right decision!"

Students and observers, however, took to social media to point out that Graham’s victory wasn’t much of a victory at all.

While Muslim students will not be permitted to perform an amplified call-to-prayer from atop the chapel’s bell tower, they will still gather on the quadrangle outside the sanctuary. There they will conduct a call-to-prayer before heading inside the chapel to hold prayer services — just as they’ve done for the last two years.

The irony of Graham’s "victory" wasn’t lost on Deena Nasr, 31, a Duke alumna and former member of the school's Muslim Student Association, who said that announcing a call-to-prayer from the tower was more "symbolic" than anything else, and that Duke University, more so than its Muslim students, was the real loser.

"It doesn’t really affect us," Nasr said. "But performing the call-to-prayer from the tower would have been a great way for Duke to promote that it’s a diverse school that’s accepting of different faiths, cultures and sexualities — especially in a city like Durham, which isn’t so open-minded.”

"They could have also set a good example for other schools across the country," she added.

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