Duke University draws fire as it announces weekly Muslim call to prayer

Starting this Friday, Duke University plans to have a regular Muslim call to prayer on campus. Most students support religious diversity, but off-campus critics are concerned by what it symbolizes.

Inform

As of Friday, residents of Durham, N.C., near the Duke University Chapel bell tower will now hear the tones of a male Muslim Students Association member chanting the Muslim “adhan” or "call to prayer" at 1 p.m. each week. 

 “On campus among students and faculty the response has been overwhelmingly positive,“ says Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence in a phone interview.

“Those responding from the outside, particularly on social media like Twitter, have been mixed with some negativity that has begun to feed off of itself,” Mr. Lawrence adds.

The chant, which announces the start of the group’s jummah prayer service, which takes place in the chapel basement each Friday at 1 p.m., lasts about three minutes and will be moderately amplified, according to a Duke University press release.

Imam Adeel Zeb, Muslim chaplain at Duke says in a phone interview that the addition of the chant was in the works months prior to the militant Islamist attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and are in no way in response or politically motivated.

Muslim students at Duke are supported by the university through the Office of Student Affairs’ Muslim Life department, which hosts religious services, community service projects, and interfaith events. The Center for Muslim Life provides on-campus social and spiritual meeting spaces for students as well as opportunities for counseling and advising.

 “This is not about politics,” Mr. Zeb says. “This is part of Duke’s mission to promote religious diversity on campus.”

Zeb adds that he “did not hesitate for a moment” or waver at all in the plan following the Paris attacks or after learning about negative feedback on Twitter.

“As always, I advise my students to respond to negativity by being very positive and loving in their character,” Zeb says. “It is a tradition and an honor to carry on the chant and call to prayer.”

 "Duke is in the minority for having the call to prayer," Zeb says. "I don't know of many others doing it."

 He adds that the service is open to the public.

The words will be chanted in Arabic, then spoken in English by either male or female students over the public address system, according to Zeb who offers the following English translation of the Adhan:

 God is Most Great. God is Most Great.

God is Most Great. God is Most Great.

I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except God.

I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except God.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.

Come to prayer. Come to prayer.

Come to Success. Come to Success.

God is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.

There is none worthy of being worshipped except God.

Zeb says that he has spent the past week training seven male students in the proper intonation, rhythm, and pronunciation of the chant. The adhan is traditionally performed by males unless it is a call to an all-female gathering, in which case, Zeb says, a woman would call the adhan.

"The adhan is the call to prayer that brings Muslims back to their purpose in life, which is to worship God and serves as a reminder to serve our brothers and sisters in humanity," Zeb explains. “The collective Muslim community is truly grateful and excited about Duke’s intentionality toward religious and cultural diversity.” 

“This opportunity represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke’s mission,” Christy Lohr Sapp, the chapel’s associate dean for religious life and a Christian, is quoted in a press release. “It connects the university to national trends in religious accommodation.”

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