Mosque (illustration)
Mosque (illustration)Thinkstock

Duke University was to be the first school in the United States to sound the Muslim call to prayer over its school-wide speaker system. The decision to do so, announced just last week, caused an immediate backlash and opposition – and the university administration reneged.

The prayer call was to occur once a week, on Fridays at 1 PM, and last for three minutes. 

The decision to allow the loud, haunting prayer call – known in Arabic as an adhan – aroused fears that increasing sensitivity to Muslim desires was bringing with it decreasing sensitivity to the needs of other communities. The piercing muezzin call intrudes on the lives of non-Muslims in many places around the world, and has frequently become an issue of controversy.

In Israel, security forces have often been summoned to ensure that muezzins do not sound the early-morning adhans at volume levels that disturb the sleep of Jews some kilometers away.

Reactions to last week's decision at Duke led to "serious and credible concerns about safety and security," according to school officials – and the decision was changed. This past Friday, hundreds of students attended the public adhan – which was sung in English and Arabic by a Muslim Student Association member using a hand-held microphone behind a chapel door, instead of from atop the chapel tower. A small speaker on the chapel steps broadcast it to the crowd.

Despite several calls on social media to disrupt the service, there were no observable protests. Following the adhan, a few dozen people – about 10% of the Muslim student populace at Duke – took part in the prayer service itself in the chapel basement. Some 700 members of the 15,000 Duke students identify themselves as Muslims.