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Duke Chapel, The Adhan and Tolerance in 2015

This is the Duke Chapel, Not the Duke Minaret!

This is the Duke Chapel, Not the Duke Minaret!

From the moment it was announced that a weekly Muslim call to prayer was going to be sent out over an amplified sound system from the top of Duke Chapel at Duke University last week, you knew it was going to be controversial.

After all, Duke University used to be Ground Zero for the training of many Methodist ministers in its Divinity School. James Buchanan Duke’s own words lay out the reasons why he wanted Duke University to receive the lion’s share of the Duke Endowment in the first place:

‘I have selected Duke University as one of the principal objects of this trust because I recognize that education, when conducted along sane and practical, as opposed to dogmatic and theoretical, lines, is, next to religion, the greatest civilizing influence.”

It was, and still is, a pretty amazing display of foresightedness and generosity that has not only paid off many times over in the state of North Carolina in terms of education and medical care and research but also around the globe.

It is also a pretty amazing example of the benefits we all, as a society, enjoy when some people succeed in the business world beyond ours and their wildest dreams. But that is for another time.

The thing that struck us last week when we heard of the proposal to allow the call to Muslim prayer from the top of what was set up originally as a Christian place of worship was how many people were confusing ‘tolerance’ with ‘acceptance’ and ‘agreement’.

We think it is worth delving into further simply because this confusion permeates not only our religious world today but also our political speech world as well.

‘Tolerance’ for one another’s religious beliefs does not mean I have to agree with another religious belief system. In fact, I can despise it and argue against it as much as I want…as long as I don’t take action to harm the other person or deny him/her their right to do the same to my religion.

There are tribes in Africa that worship the dung beetle since it pushes a clod of animal dung around and around and over and under a larger dung pile through tunnels. They worship the dung beetle because it symbolizes the rising and the setting of the sun, which if you think about it, makes some sorta sense.

Who are we to say they can’t worship the dung beetle? We had a professor in college who said those same tribe members would ask a Christian why would anyone worship a man who had been crucified on a wooden cross?

Good point.

The point that some people seemed to have missed last week when they came out for the call to Muslim prayer from the top of a Christian Chapel of Worship is this:

‘You will never see a call to Christian worship from the top of an Islamic mosque!’

Or from the top of a Jewish synagogue either! And they shouldn’t. While all three religions are branches off the same tree stemming from Abraham in the Old Testament, each one has its own unique defining core beliefs that make full acceptance of the tenets of another contradictory to the belief of their own religion.

Each religion has its own unique places of worship; rituals, hymns, prayer meetings and language. Let them all stay separate for worship purposes. There is no need to blend them together like a smoothie in the name of ‘tolerance’.

Both Islam and Judaism belief denies the existence of a Messiah named Jesus who declared Himself to be the Son of God and who died and resurrected and went to heaven and sent his Holy Spirit to guide His believers and followers.

Why would they ever allow a Christian minister or an evangelist such as Billy Graham in his hey day to climb to the top of any mosque or synagogue in the world to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ then?

They wouldn’t. In many Muslim countries around the world, Christians are actively persecuted for their belief and either killed, forced out of the country or forced to convert to Islam. You don’t even want to ask Jews how they have been treated in other lands over the centuries solely because of their religious belief.

If you want to see how ‘free’ we are to worship freely here in America, go to some of the Islamic countries now under control of the more fundamental leaders and try to talk about Christianity or Judaism in the public square. You may not come back.

Thank God we don’t have that same kind of oppression here in America. Or Whoever you want to thank.

Let’s compare excerpts from the Adhan, the Muslim Call to Prayer, with something as basic to the Christian faith as the Nicene Creed:

Muslim Adhan:

‘I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.

The Nicene Creed:

‘We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
   the only son of God,
   eternally begotten of the Father,
   God from God, Light from Light,
   true God from true God,
   begotten not made,
   of one Being with the Father.’

Does anyone see where the inherent conflict is here?

There might have been a sincere, albeit naive, attempt to bring people of different faiths together with this short-lived effort at Duke University last week. That, we can all agree on, is a good thing.

We can all agree that we should treat our fellow man and woman with respect, love and mercy, yes? As long as those basic tenets of each faith are followed, we should all be able to live in harmony, no?

One of the strongest tenets of the US Bill of Rights has been our right to freely worship, and in context, ‘freely associate’ with others who share those same beliefs. That also means we are free to ‘not’ worship with any other faith or in a mosque or temple if we don’t want to do so.

It also means we never have to accept those beliefs or worship any God if we so choose. Thomas Jefferson pretty much made that a mandatory factor in American life when he helped get the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedompassed in in 1786.*

My father once described what he saw was the basic characteristic of North Carolinians he knew, or at least the ones he grew up with in independent-minded western North Carolina in Asheville during the Depression.

‘If you ask them to help you, they will give you the shirt off their back. But if you tell them to give the shirt off their back, they will tell you to (well, you know where they will tell you to go)’

Same thing with people of a different religious belief. You can’t ‘tell’ them or force them to agree with you. You might get them to see something positive in your religion if they see something different such as your kindness or generosity and gentleness of spirit perhaps but you can’t force-feed someone else your religious beliefs.

The next time there is a furor over some religious issue in the press or on some college campus or in some city, because there will be, you can count on it, remember this lesson from the Muslim Call to Prayer from the Top of Duke Chapel Incident:

‘America’s greatest commodity is freedom. Let’s try to keep it that way’. 

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