Fact Check

Duke University's Muslim Call to Prayer

Rumor: Duke University has instituted a weekly Muslim call to prayer from the chapel bell tower every Friday afternoon.

Published Jan 15, 2015

Claim:   Duke University has announced the introduction of a weekly call to prayer for Muslim students on Friday afternoons.


Example:   [Collected via Facebook, January 2015]

Duke University announced today that they will have a Muslim call to prayer from their chapel bell tower every Friday. 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. I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed.


All over Facebook and Youtube is the announcement that the Muslim call to prayer will be broadcast every Friday. This seems strange to me, as the call to prayer is usually broadcast 5 times a day in countries with a predominantly Muslim population.


Origins:   On 14 January 2015, Christian evangelist Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) published the above-referenced

status update to his Facebook page. Graham urged his followers to condemn Duke University due to a newly-instituted weekly call to prayer for its Muslim students.

Graham's plea rapidly began to circulate and prompt outcry due in part to its timing: earlier in January 2015, twelve employees of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo were massacred at their workplace by suspected sympathizers of Islamic State. Duke's timing was not coincidental, either: in a 14 January 2015 commentary about the decision, associate dean for religious life at Duke University Chapel in Durham Christy Lorr Sapp explained the move was aimed at promoting inclusion on campus in light of an increased level of hostility toward 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. From ISIS to Boko Haram to al-Qaida, Muslims in the media are portrayed as angry aggressors driven by values that are anti-education and anti-Western.

Yet, 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. This face of the faith will be given more of a voice as the Duke Muslim community begins chanting the adhan, the call to prayer, from the Duke Chapel bell tower on Fridays beginning this week. It will be chanted by Muslim students prior to the jummah prayer service that takes place in the chapel basement each Friday afternoon.

This opportunity represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke's mission and connects the university to national trends in religious accommodation.

Perhaps, too, this small token of welcome will provide a platform for a truer voice to resonate: a voice that challenges media stereotypes of Muslims, a voice of wisdom, a voice prayer and a voice of peace.

Driving the outrage in part was a general sentiment Duke University is a historically Christian institution. However, the level to which Duke is so considered has been a subject of debate and dispute in previous controversies. In 2010, Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations described the University as an "independent and non-sectarian institution," and said "its ties to the church are primarily historical and symbolic." The Dean of the Chapel concurred and "characterized the relationship between Duke and the church as 'benign and benevolent.'"

Many of those posting angry comments to Duke University's Facebook wall labored under the impression the institution was favoring Muslim traditions at the expense Christian ones. That claim is not true: Duke's Chapel calendar revealed that during the week in which the initial Muslim call to prayer was announced, a number of denominational services were scheduled. Among them were no fewer than seven Catholic masses (three on Sunday), several adult Bible Study meetings, Christian Sunday school, an event called "Godly Play" for young children, and "Midweek Prayer." A mission statement on the Duke Chapel's site explains:

Duke Chapel continues to be a Christian church of uniquely interdenominational character and purpose. Through its tradition of inspiring worship and music, and a calling to walk with people of all faiths and circumstances, Duke Chapel acts a beacon of grace on campus and in the community. All are welcome to take part in worship, learning, dialogue, and service.

However, shortly afterwards Duke decided to reverse the previously announced policy due to public criticism:

In the face of biting criticism from conservative Christian evangelist Franklin Graham, Duke University [has] dropped its plan to let Muslim students chant a weekly call to prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower.

"Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students," Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs, said in a news release. "However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect."

Last updated:   15 January 2015

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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