I was listening to conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved talking today about the Duke University chapel controversy involving Muslim students using the iconic chapel for Muslim prayers including the traditionalAdhan-call to prayer using the chapel's steeple as a minaret. As things stand now, the call to prayer from the steeple has been canceled, but the call will take place outside the chapel and the worshipers will hold their prayers inside a chapel room.
Medved (who is Jewish) is taking the position that Duke should not restrict the Muslim students' right to pray. (They are required to pray at designated times 5 times a day.) He also says that Christian prayers at the chapel are preceded by bells ringing from the steeple. Thus, the issue of bothersome noise to students is, in effect, cancelled out.
In addition, Medved criticized Franklin Graham's statement on the issue, which specifically criticized Islam as a violent religion.
I respect Medved's positions on this. I do think the university could make provisions for Muslim students to fulfill their prayer requirements on campus. I think a private room would be more appropriate. I still have misgivings about the chapel for two reasons I have mentioned before. While mosques do invite non-believers onto their premises, it is largely for educational purposes and promoting Islam. I do not see the same reciprocity, however, as to other faiths holding their services in a mosque. Secondly, I have a problem with the fact that prayers feature sura 1, which has a negative reference to Christians and Jews. To recite those lines in a church or a synagogue is simply not appropriate in my view.
As for Reverend Graham's statement, I think he would have been better served to leave out the references to Islamic violence. I think the argument can be made that it was not the time or place for that.
Now, however, comes Duke Professor Omid Safi into the story courtesy of Breitbart. Safi has been featured on this site before when he was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (First I ever heard of a Tarheel going over to the Blue Devils, but that is another story.)
So this introduces a whole new twist into this mess. Why? Because Duke University officials are scurrying all over the place making the requisite statements about trying to foster inclusion, togetherness, diversity, and all that other good stuff.
"Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students," university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said in a statement. "However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect."
So much for that.
The presence of Safi in the middle of this does not fit with the above statement. This guy who no agent of togetherness or bridge-building. It only leads me to suspect that there is an element of the camel getting his nose under the tent in terms of using the chapel in this manner.
Let me add this: As for the Muslim Student Association and the 700 or so Muslim students at Duke (which was established as a Methodist university). I have no problem with them and assume they just want a place where they can pray as they are required to do. (I am always suspicious of the leadership of the various MSA chapters because I think they have to conform to a particular agenda, but that is a different topic.) I say let them be provided with a room away from the chapel. Prayer for any religion should be private and non-intrusive to others. That shouldn't be hard to arrange.