Duke University decision invites Sunni, Shiite conflict to campus

by Will Hall, |
Built in 1930, the cathedral-like centerpiece of Duke's West Campus soars 210 feet and is one of the last great collegiate Gothic projects in the United States. It features the Flentrop Organ (5,200 pipes), 50-bell carillon, and stained-glass windows and holds numerous chapel services and recitals each week. | www.visitnc.com

DURHAM, N.C. (Christian Examiner) – Duke University is breaking new religious ground, announcing it will broadcast the Muslim call to prayer, the adhan, every Friday afternoon at 1 p.m., beginning Jan. 16, according to school officials.

The move comes just one week after the murderous massacre by Islamic terrorists in Paris, France.

But the controversy is not just about the timing, or the outcries by Americans relating to the 911 attacks by Muslim extremists, or even the Christian founding of the United States.

The key controversy likely will be which competing version of the adhan, Sunni or Shiite, should be used.

So now, the 3-minute chant, which will be "moderately amplified" to announce the start of the Muslim Student Association's jummah (Friday) prayer service, which already takes place in the chapel basement, becomes more than a symbol of religious tolerance and offers to invite onto campus the conflict which now embroils Muslim nations worldwide.

According to the think tank Council on Foreign Affairs, it is the ancient religious divide between Sunnis and Shias that "have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East ... and sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses a threat beyond the region."

But, university officials seem unaware of this deep religious divide within Islam, and at least publicly, have not addressed concerns sure to arise about whether they will honor both sects.

Instead, at least for now, they only see the controversy in terms of the public outcry about the move.

"On campus among students and faculty the response has been overwhelmingly positive," Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence told the Christian Science Monitor. "Those responding from the outside, particularly on social media like Twitter, have been mixed with some negativity."

Even the issue of imams has divided the Islamic faithful and it relates to the origin of the conflict.

CFR summarizes that for mainstream Shias, there are only twelve imams, historic holy men, the last of which has been in a state of occultation, or "hiddenness," since 939 A.D. to return at the end of time. Consequently, for them an imam has a direct bloodline to Mohammad, through Husayn, the son of Ali who was the cousin, son-in-law and successor of Mohammad. Their senior clerics are called ayatollahs.

Sunnis, who compose 85 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, on the other hand, do not recognize a bloodline, but elect religious leaders. For them, imams are men who lead prayer services in mosques. Moreover, 40 percent of Sunnis, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, do not regard Shias as proper Muslims.

Duke's Muslim chaplain Imam Adeel Zeb told Christian Science Monitor the decision was measured and in the planning, preparation and training stages for months.

In spite of last week's murderous rampage by Islamic terrorists at a Paris, France, satirical magazine he said he "did not hesitate for a moment" or waver at all in the plan to start calling the adhan this week.

"As always, I advise my students to respond to negativity by being very positive and loving in their character," Zeb said. "It is a tradition and an honor to carry on the chant and call to prayer."

The Sunni adhan is translated below:

Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.

Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.

I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.

I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

Come to prayer. Come to prayer.

Come to Success. Come to Success.

Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.

There is none worthy of being worshiped except Allah.

The Shiite adhan is similar but includes a line recognizing Ali (who is rejected by Sunnis) as the representative of Allah, and, after the invitations to come to prayer and success there is a call to come to best action.

"This opportunity represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke's mission," said Christy Lohr Sapp, the chapel's associate dean for religious life and a Christian, in a Duke press release. "It connects the university to national trends in religious accommodation."

Duke is a private research university founded in 1838 by Methodists and Quakers that has as its motto "Eruditio et Religio," Latin for "Learning and Religion."