As a doctoral student with a research interest in Muslim-Christian dialogue, I was saddened to hear that Duke University cancelled its plans to have its Muslim students sound the Friday call to prayer, or adhan, from the university chapel. I may not be Muslim myself, but I feel that my Catholic faith has been strengthened by my encounter with Islam in my academic studies. I cannot speak as a Muslim, but if I am to call myself a disciple of Jesus, I believe I must express my outrage at Duke’s decision.
On January 15th, Franklin Graham, one of the major figures who opposed the call to prayer on Duke’s campus, posted the following statement on Facebook.
“The Muslim call to prayer that has been approved to go out across the campus of Duke University every Friday afternoon for three minutes includes “Allahu Akbar”—the words that the terrorists shouted at the onset of last week’s massacre in Paris. It includes the proclamation that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Will evangelical Christians be allowed the same three minutes weekly to broadcast the message across campus that God Almighty of the Bible sent His Son Jesus Christ to offer forgiveness of sins and salvation to all who will repent, believe, and call on His Name? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).”
In Matthew 7:4, Jesus asks us “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” Its time for us Christians to start owning up to the planks in our eyes and offering to stand in solidarity with and support our Muslim brothers and sisters. Have us Christians apologized for the 1600% growth of anti-Muslim hate crimes that occurred after 9/11? Have we apologized for the fact that I can easily walk around the streets of Boston wearing a crucifix, but my Muslim friends do not feel as safe in a hijab? Have we apologized for the Klu Klux Klan? Does Graham take into consideration that slave-owners would often shout Bible verses while brutally beating the African American men and women whose humanity they failed to recognize? “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Jesus also told us that the two greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Sadly, the cancellation of the Muslim call to prayer is just one example of how Christians have not shown neighborly love to Muslims.
Christians should not feel threatened by the adhan. Allahu Akbar means “God is greatest” or “God is great.” We may have different rituals and beliefs, but Allah is the same God as the God worshipped by the two other Abrahamic traditions, Christianity and Judaism, a loving, merciful God who is ultimately mystery. If God is mystery, and no humans words can fully capture the greatness that is God, this means we cannot limit where God manifests God’s self. By refusing to make space for the Muslim community, we miss out on learning how God has revealed God’s self in traditions other than our own. According to the Quran, “If God had so willed he would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues.” And as the late Dominican Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx said, “truth is not to be found in a system but in dialogue.” No one has a monopoly on truth.
Jesus was not on the side of the rich and powerful, but rather the lonely, the oppressed, and the misunderstood. Jesus did not listen to media soundbites, but rather he took the time to engage with the people he met, even those whom were hated by society. Jesus heard that Duke cancelled the Muslim call to prayer and Jesus wept.