Duke University has canceled plans for Muslim students to sound the traditional call to prayer from the school's iconic chapel tower amid threats of violence and a backlash from anti-Muslim groups, conservatives and Christian leaders.
Muslim prayers have been held inside the neo-Gothic chapel for several years, said Duke's vice president for public affairs, Michael Schoenfeld, with the traditional Islamic call to "hasten to worship" issued at the service itself.
University officials had announced that beginning Friday, prayers would begin with the chant delivered from atop the towering 210-foot belfry.
Under the plan, first a male student would chant in Arabic, then a female student would read an English translation. A small set of speakers would be set up to amplify the call so that people at the base of the skyscraper-like tower could hear it. The procedure was developed after months of discussion among religious-life officials at the university, scholars and students.
"The vehemence of the reaction from a number of quarters created concerns about security," Mr. Schoenfeld said, though he declined to discuss specific threats.
Instead, the university announced, the call to prayer will be delivered from the quadrangle in front of the chapel.
While the announcement had received little attention at the prestigious North Carolina university, it sparked fury online.
"As campuses continue to foster political correctness, they use it as a way to favor religions seemingly at war with Western civilization and Judeo-Christian beliefs," a spokeswoman for the conservative Young America's Foundation wrote on the conservative website Breitbart.com.
On Fox News, Steve Doocy played a recording of the call to worship, called the adhan, before asking, "Is this religious accommodation necessary or just completely unfair to non-Muslim students?"
The evangelist Franklin Graham called on Duke donors and alumni to withhold support until "this policy is reversed."
"To use that bell tower as a minaret, to call on the god of Islam," Mr. Graham told a television station in Charlotte, N.C., "we as Christians are being marginalized."
The controversy was made more intense by the symbolic significance of the towering chapel itself, Mr. Schoenfeld said. Built from 1930 to 1935, the belfry's high, gray stone walls and 50-bell carillon reflect the university's Methodist roots. Stone statues carved in high relief at its entrance honor figures including Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Thomas Jefferson and the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
The chapel is used for a variety of religious and campus events, including an annual baccalaureate service at graduation, as well as weddings, baptisms and funerals. Several religious groups use its 1,600-seat sanctuary and meeting spaces. Befitting a university whose seal contains a cross and the Latin motto "Eruditio et Religio"— knowledge and faith — most of the services are Christian.
Muslim students and faculty at Duke have used the chapel complex for prayers off and on for at least 20 years, said Omid Safi, a professor of contemporary Islam and director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. As the school's Muslim community, which now numbers about 700, has grown, it has moved into increasingly larger spaces for the weekly prayer.
"I am disappointed," Dr. Safi said after the revised announcement. "We are essentially caving into the very real security concerns."
Mr. Schoenfeld said that the university had not bowed to pressure. "Duke's commitment to presenting and supporting and strengthening religious diversity is very strong. In this particular case, we reconsidered a decision, and we're comfortable with the decision we've taken," he said.
Duke's Muslim Student Association did not respond to requests for comment. Dr. Safi said the university had recommended that students not speak with the news media because of the security concerns.