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Duke Falls Short When Attempting Religious Equality

Duke University made headlines recently by reversing its new policy allowing the Muslim call to prayer, or “adhan,” to occur in the church’s belltower. Muslim students would have been permitted to chant the call to prayer from the bell tower on Fridays, according to CNN. Duke should have followed through on its promise if it really wanted to demonstrate the love for culture vehemently expressed in the “Diversity” section of its website. Instead, Duke allowed ignorant people threatening the safety of the students to direct them away from what was right and inclusive.

Duke students continued with the adhan on Jan. 16 without a hitch, but it was moved to outside the chapel instead of its original location inside the belltower. A public affairs officer for the school, Michael Schoenfeld, said “It was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect,” according to The LA Times. What Schoenfeld fails to mention, however, is that they never really tried. Duke gave up after ignorant backlash, both over the phone and internet, directed at the university by people who were mainly concerned with keeping Muslims out of the chapel because their beliefs didn’t match the building, according to The LA Times. Duke claims the plans were altered because of “security concerns” without specifically citing what those concerns were, according to CNN. Presumably, Duke officials believed that harm would come to their students, staff or capital. The idea of protecting Duke is noble, but they achieved this by bowing to ignorance and hatred. Duke gave in to the pressure and failed to support its students, in contrast to the past.

“The institution [Duke] was begun in 1838-39 when Methodist and Quaker families in northwest Randolph County united to transform Brown’s Schoolhouse into Union Institute, thus providing permanent education for their children,” but “the college and university have always been nonsectarian,” according to the Duke website. The university also previously held Jummah, another form of Islamic prayer, in the chapel basement. Thus, it was not an extraordinarily significant change in school practices to allow Muslim students to chant the adhan from the belltower, and there likely would not have been an issue had it not been excessively publicized.

To the university and its students, this policy was just another way to weave their cultural web, but Duke officials ruined the opportunity for heightened cultural interaction by backing out of the plan so quickly. Especially in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Duke should have stood up for its students, who are not extremists, but rather young adults trying to express their religion at an institution founded on similar principles.


Rebecca Turner can be reached at


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