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When Duke University first announced a call to prayer from its chapel’s bell tower, it was intended to bring together Muslims and non-Muslims after recent terrorist attacks in Paris — instead, the move sparked widespread controversy and prompted Duke to cancel the event.

Franklin Graham, a prominent evangelical Christian, wrote a Facebook post demanding that donors withhold donations from Duke until the policy was reversed.

Duke held a similar event in front of the chapel on Friday that drew around 300 people.

Juliane Hammer, a religious studies professor at UNC, said she was optimistic when she first heard of the event.

“I was excited that Duke, in a time of heightened controversy after the Paris attacks, would be bold enough to make a statement in support of a religious minority community that has been under so much pressure to distance itself from the attacks,” she said in an email.

Thabit Pulak, a Muslim and Duke freshman, attended the call to prayer outside the chapel on Friday and said initially he was disappointed with the university’s decision, but he remained hopeful for better understanding among religious groups in the future.

“Given what I have seen on the news, I would say that people outside Duke had a much more negative impact than Duke itself. In fact, Duke administration and Duke students were very supportive,” he said.

Carl Ernst, a UNC religious studies professor, said the chaplains at the school, not the Muslim community, proposed the call to prayer.

“It was actually proposed by the Christian chaplains as a goodwill gesture of inclusion of Muslim students in the use of the Duke Chapel,” Ernst said in an email.

The Duke community tries to foster support for all religious backgrounds, said Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean of religious life at Duke University, in an email. 

“It is a shame that so much hostility has been directed on Duke students by so many who do not know much about our community,” she said.

Eeyi Oon, a Duke sophomore, said she really liked the idea of a public call to prayer and said she used to wake up to it every morning when she lived in Malaysia.

“It was a great opportunity for people who are religious in general to stand together in an increasingly secular world,” Oon said.

Though there were many supporters and sympathizers in the community, not everyone was ready for a public call to prayer yet, said freshman Kevin Wang.

“It has left a scar that has been treated, but not really healed,” Wang said. “I am not religious, so personally, I would have been fine with the call to prayer, but since Duke was founded as a Methodist institution, I am sure that there are a lot of Christian influences throughout the university that would have opposed it.”

Duke freshman Eidan Jacob said he’s glad the event has gained national attention.

“It is something we should be talking about,” he said. “So much of the rhetoric has become Islamophobic, xenophobic or very intolerant one way or the other.”

While a public call to prayer would be ideal, Pulak said he hopes the attention it has brought will bring wider acceptance of Muslims.

“Like many of the religions out there in the world today, we are people just like anybody else, not any different.”

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