Duke University reverses Muslim call to prayer plan

Duke University is reversing its plan to allow a student group to use the campus' iconic Chapel bell-tower to perform a Muslim call to prayer. Their initial approval caused some public backlash and also at least one creditable security threat.

The university had originally given permission to Muslim MSA to use the bell-tower weekly starting Friday. The Duke Muslim Student Association members were planning to chant the call, known as adhan or azan, from the Duke Chapel bell tower. It was scheduled to last around three minutes and be "moderately amplified," officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Two days later, the university changed its mind and is now asking the student group to setup adjacent to the chapel.

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

The school's initial approval had drawn some criticism, including from Franklin Graham:

"I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed," Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday. "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."

The school also confirmed late Thursday their reversal was partially based on a conceived security threat. Schoenfeld declined to provide further details.

Jummah prayers have taken place in the basement of Duke Chapel for many years, the school said in a statement Thursday. Those prayers have always started with the traditional call to prayer chant. Members of the Muslim community will gather on the quadrangle outside the Chapel, a site of frequent interfaith programs and activities, before moving to its regular location for prayers, according to the school.

School officials said more than 700 of Duke's 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students identify as Muslim.