Duke University’s reversal of its initial decision to allow the Muslim call to prayer or the adhan to be broadcast from its Chapel bell tower was disappointing. The same tower that, day after day, rang church bells upon Christian services would have become a sign of Duke’s commitment to plurality and diversity.
Instead, under the threat of financial boycott and extreme opposition from the likes of Franklin Graham, Duke rescinded its decision, and the bell tower now serves as an unfortunate symbol of Islamophobia and bigotry.
Graham, in his initial response on Facebook that received over 70,000 likes, wrote, “followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism.”
I take strong offense to this for several reasons. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, I am a proud “follower of Islam” and find all the accusations that Graham ascribed to members of my community to be abhorrent. Conflating the actions of extremist groups such as ISIS with the 1.6 billion “followers of Islam” is ignorant and irresponsible for a person who commands a following as large as his.
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While extremist groups that claim to act in the name of Islam have committed the excesses mentioned by Graham and should be strongly condemned, what do their actions have to do with the Islam that 700 Muslims at Duke University practice? If allowing the adhan to be called from the Duke Chapel bell tower Duke promotes the atrocities being committed by groups such as ISIS, then let’s pause and imagine what the church bells, according to Graham’s logic, may be promoting.
With every ring of the church bells, Duke University would be promoting the genocide being carried out by Christian militias against Muslims in the Central African Republic, the Ku Klux Klan bombings of NAACP buildings such as the one attempted in Colorado Springs on Jan. 6 and the self-described “Christian crusaders” such as Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011
Such a conclusion would be unfair to the over 2 billion Christians of the world who dissociate themselves from these extremists who claim to act in the name of Christianity. It would be an insult to the peaceful example and teachings of Jesus Christ just as the generalizations and stereotypes purported by Graham are an insult to the peaceful and tolerant teachings of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
As Graham is quick to dismiss Islam as intolerant based on the condemnable actions of extremist Muslims and responds in like, both Graham and the extremists could learn from the tolerant and pluralistic example of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muhammad was once visited by a delegation of Christian scholars from the town of Najran. After engaging in a dialogue discussing differences in theology in the prophet’s mosque, the delegation requested it be excused to offer its worship services. Muhammad replied that his mosque was a house of worship for all and lovingly insisted that they perform their worship right in his mosque.
In a letter to the St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Muhammad stated, “Verily I … and my followers defend them [Christians], because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them.” Such examples show the true teachings of Islam and should be representative of Islam – not the distorted image presented by extremists.
And while Duke has made the decision to rescind its initial decision under duress, it and other institutions must stay committed to pluralism and diversity. If that means the lighting of a menorah and other religious observances, they should all be accepted with open arms or restricted equally.
As Muslims, we don’t ask for special treatment, just equal treatment. Please extend the same courtesy given to Christianity and stop conflating the vast, peaceful majority of Muslims with the extremist fringe.
Sohaib Awan of Ohio is chairman of the Muslim Writers Guild of America.