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Deconstructing the national fear of Duke’s Adhan

I am an Israeli Jew. I was born in the city of Haifa, which, as is typical of major cities in Israel, is home to a sizable Muslim population and dozens of mosques. Five times a day, from early morning to late at night, the Muslim faithful are called to assemble for prayers using an ancient chant, likely to be almost exactly the same words and melodies heard during the life of the prophet Mohammed.

The calls echoing from the minarets of the mosques often rouse citizens from sleep—as they are intended to—without respect to their religious preferences, or disturb quiet places in libraries and schools—places that can be secular or devoted to any number of religions, including the majority-held Jewish faith. The adhan is beautifully lyrical, but for non-Muslims it gets old very quickly, especially when it wakes babies from their naps or disturbs students in their study.

Yet recitations of the adhan are simply part of the soundscape for many in Israel. Movements to unfairly limit the freedom of Muslims to chant it are extremely scandalous—it is as natural for a Haifan or a Jerusalemite to hear one or more recitations of the adhan each day as it is for a Londoner to hear the ringing of church bells marking off the hours, or for a New Yorker to hear the sounds of underground trains echoing through vents.

I invite you to imagine my surprise and disappointment, then, when the request of our Muslim colleagues to use the chapel tower for just three minutes on Friday afternoons was so poorly received by the Duke community and the nation at large.

In a segment entitled “Students react to Duke reversing Muslim call to prayer” on Fox News, Sean Hannity and several of his guests continued expressing a double standard for Muslim Americans that I have noticed while living in the United States. His first guest on the segment, Ashley Pratte, speaking on behalf of the Young America’s Foundation, adamantly claimed that the move to allow Muslims to use the chapel’s tower created a situation in which “the scales were tilted against Christians.” Mr. Hannity was quick to agree, bringing up that Duke only extended this privilege “to one religion.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The Duke Chapel has a long history of interfaith and even secular use for university-related functions. Services from nearly all faiths represented on campus have been held in the Chapel. Are the bells in the tower not used to play Christian hymns or call Christian worshippers to prayer? If the answer were no, then I could believe in Pratte’s “tipped scale.” But clearly the answer is yes. The university strives to make all faiths welcome and allow all communities to fulfill their religious obligations.

The segment then took a dramatic turn towards straw man arguments that would have been comical as satire, but were deeply disturbing when presented seriously. Mr. Hannity segued into some questions raised by the decision, the first of which was, of course, the treatment of women and LGBT people in societies living under Sharia law, a strict interpretation of the Muslim tradition known for its cruelty to apostates, religious minorities, women, and others.

The mental leap from a three-minute chant to a repressive societal structure is astounding, and, I think, indicative of a double standard for Muslims held not just by Fox News hosts but also by far too many Americans. Nobody should have to explain that the oppression of sexual, faith or other minorities in traditional Muslim societies is irrelevant to the adhan at Duke. Nobody should have to remind a person that using the unsavory actions of a small subset of a group of people to justify generalizations against the entire population is the literal definition of bigotry. Yet apparently, that is the level of dialogue for many in this country. Hannity also went on to question why the University doesn’t recite proselytizing Christian verses from the chapel, a question that both misconstrues the content of the adhan and ignores the fact that the chapel bells play hymns daily and ring weekly before Sunday prayers.

Under this double standard, if the most prevalent and iconic building on a secular campus is a historic church, and displays an overtly Christian image despite its use by all faiths, there are no problems. However, if Muslim students want to use it as a rather improvised minaret for just three minutes a week, the “scales” are now tipped against Christian students and prominent Christian leaders must campaign for alumni to withhold donations from the University until the “injustice” is rectified. Their complaints must also reference the atrocities committed by radicals that the students have no control over or relationship to.

I wish that arguments against broadcasting the adhan from the chapel tower could have been intelligent, sincere arguments about religious freedoms and equality. Instead, they are steeped in Islamophobia and intolerant double standards that should put many of us, pundits and private citizens alike, to shame.

Eidan Jacob is a Trinity freshman.

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