That was the first thought Omid Safi says went through his head when he saw news about the deadly shooting attack in Chattanooga on Thursday.
Then came a familiar sinking feeling. “Not because the suspect is Muslim,” says Safi, who directs the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University. “When there is an act like this, it tends to undo all of the good work that has taken place in the community over the last years and months, and in particular in the month of Ramadan.”
Duke University found itself at the center of a national controversy last week after it granted permission, then revoked it, and finally re-granted permission for Muslim students on campus to use the chapel for the weekly call to prayer (adhan). Initially, a Duke student was to perform the call to prayer at a “moderate volume” from the chapel bell tower, but after non-Muslim, mostly Christian, groups protested the decision, the university decided to cancel the event altogether, citing “security concerns.”
Televangelist Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, led the opposition to the Call for Prayer writing on his Facebook page, “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.” Meanwhile, Omid Safi, the director of Duke’s Islamic Studies program responded to Graham’s claims saying, “Every day from that same Duke chapel, church bells ring, and twice on Sunday,” he said. “The cross is on the emblem of Duke University. The entire quad, and the entire campus of Duke University is laid out as a cross. And the Christian chapel is the very symbol of Duke University. So the kind of fanatical proclamation that Christianity is being erased from Duke’s campus is frankly a poor indication of the intelligence of that argument.”
Last week, Duke reversed its position once-again after national media attention and protests by the student body in support of Muslim students on-campus. Permission to give the call to prayer was given to Muslim students on the quad in front of the university chapel. However, the decision was not without a caveat as the student will only be able to speak the adhan from the doorway of the chapel. Duke University’s Imam Adeel Zeb said that his students are “disappointed” with the administration’s decision and the lack of support from earlier allies. He advised his students to remain positive.