Duke Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs Imam Abdullah Antepli was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to offer the opening congressional prayer and to speak at a Duke event discussing faith in public life. Antepli had given the congressional invocation in 2010 and was re-invited back by Congressman David E. Price (D-NC).
Antepli's prayer focused on religious differences and interfaith dialogue. The invocation and Rep. Price's introduction can be viewed on CSPAN (see below).
The event was hosted by Duke in DC and the Duke Alumni Association to discuss the role of religion in public life and politics. The panel of Price and Antepli was moderated by Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and the author of "Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial." Chaudry is perhaps best known for her work with Sarah Koenig, producer of the podcast "Serial" that details the trial of Adnan Syed.
Chaudry directed the conversation to topics of dialogue, fear and the separation of church and state. Much of her work is on wrongful convictions, and she argued that although being innocent until proven guilty is the basis of American criminal law, reality does not always reflect that balance. She said the same holds on issues of the separation of church and state, where religious liberty laws allow one religion to practice at the expense of another religion.
"I proudly applaud how our version of secularism means protecting religion in the first place," said Antepli, Duke's first Muslim campus minister. According to Antepli, secularism relies on a basic protection of all religions from the state, but also from each other: "Religious communities will have their independence if only they don't impose their religion on others," he said.
Religion, and Islam in particular, has taken the forefront of national debate as the argument around refugees, travel bans and the freedom of speech take precedence in newsrooms and in Congress. The panelists spoke about how to talk about religion and how to address religious disagreements.
On the issue of different interpretations of religious texts, Price referenced Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural speech near the end of the Civil War where Lincoln said, "We are reading the same Bible; we are praying to the same God." According to Price, the root of true religiosity is a sense of "religious reservation ... the worst kind of pride is religious pride."
But Price said there shouldn't be a strict separation of the personal experience of religion from public life because "there is no absence of things today that should convey our moral attention."
"The kind of equipment we bring to public life as faithful, moral individuals ... is imperative in a democracy," he said.
Antepli also spoke to how religious life can benefit government, saying, "Religion, must and should play a role in becoming the voice of those helpless, oppressed and persecuted."
All religions, he said, share some common history with public life. "All the prophets that we celebrate ... none of them came to their community and said, 'You guys are awesome. ...' "They all came and became a prophetic moral voice, called for a moral awakening, moral courage moral action."