Local News

Duke Chapel dean calls for dialogue after Muslim prayer controversy

Posted January 18, 2015 2:38 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2015 4:19 p.m. EST

— The dean of the Duke University Chapel sent a message to parishioners Sunday, calling for continued dialogue after a plan to broadcast a Muslim call to prayer from the chapel tower was scrapped amid security threats.

In a Jan. 18 letter addressed to the Duke Chapel community, the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery acknowledged the “painful, stressful week that the Muslim community at Duke endured” and said the controversy reaffirmed the chapel’s role as a place of hospitality toward the diverse religions and cultures on campus.

Powery also said he hopes the week’s events will renew parishioners’ own commitment to prayer.

“The mission of the Chapel, as stated in our recent strategic plan, is to stand as a beacon of Christian hope that bridges faith and learning on Duke’s campus,” he wrote.

Duke had announced plans Tuesday for members of the Duke Muslim Students Association to start the three-minute weekly call, known as adhan, from the chapel's bell tower. But the move sparked a furious backlash, prompting the university to abandon the plan.

Instead, the adhan was held on the quad outside the chapel Friday afternoon before Muslim students went into the building's basement to complete their prayers.

Students have been praying in the chapel basement for years, and Duke Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Michael Schoenfeld said officials agreed to allow them to broadcast the adhan from the tower to show the university's commitment to Muslim life on campus.

More than 700 of Duke’s 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students identify themselves as Muslims.

In his letter, Powery said the controversy raised questions about interfaith relations, the proper use of the tower and other concerns. He hopes to explore those issues.

“Thoughtful, faithful people have agreed and disagreed with the various decisions made this week,” he wrote. “In the coming weeks, the Chapel will seek opportunities for constructive dialogue about these complex and important subjects as we all strive for deeper understanding and greater faithfulness to God.”