What We Are Afraid Of

Hearing another’s voice will hurt you: 

“While it might seem an odd juxtaposition to have the adhan chanted in the same tower from which bells toll daily (and twice on Sundays!), it is actually in keeping with the university’s commitment to fostering the spiritual development of all students,” Sapp wrote. “The chanting of the adhan communicates to the Muslim community that it is welcome here, that its worship matters, that these prayers enhance the community and that all are invited to stop on a Friday afternoon and pray.”

By Thursday afternoon, the university had reversed itself. “Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said in a statement. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.” There will still be a call to prayer, but it will be delivered from the quad in front of the chapel.

Once, I heard the call to prayer from mosques in Amman, Jordan. I was jet-lagged, and as the light crept over the horizon and I smoked on my hotel balcony, the sound echoed from hillside to hillside. Figures emerged from buildings and  houses, and walked in the same direction. It was a profoundly beautiful sound and response, ancient as the mountains and new as the dawn.

I grew up a Roman Catholic, in Catholic schools from kindergarten on, living four blocks from our church in a neighborhood that was bookended by Christian churches on all sides. If our town had a synagogue, I don’t know where it was, and all I knew about other religions as a child was that when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came around the neighbors would call and we should stay in the kitchen and not answer the door, because the Jehovah’s Witnesses were annoying. They would take up a whole afternoon that could be spent doing laundry, watching soaps and drinking coffee.

On Sunday the church bells rang, and we got up and went to Mass. The church bells rang for weddings and  funerals and at Christmas and Easter, and we responded to that call. Where one or more of you are gathered in His name, and the world is large. Sometimes you need a reminder of where to go, and a voice to call you home.

I spent a good number of my formative working years as a religion reporter, learning about Judaism and Islam and even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I call myself a practicing Catholic because I’m not very good at it but I am still practicing. Finding the beauty and absurdity in the human urge to understand the divine, in all its iterations, did nothing to convince me either way of anything I wasn’t already sure about, and it created no doubts except where those doubts already were.

If you don’t know the value in your own practice or lack thereof, if you can’t justify for yourself why you believe what you believe, if you have to cover your ears and close your eyes whenever another’s God is mentioned so that yours isn’t somehow diminished, you’re so lost that no call to prayer can find you. Cutting the ropes on the bells and silencing the muezzin won’t do anything but make sure you stay that way.


2 thoughts on “What We Are Afraid Of

  1. In Duke’s defense, WRAL-TV reported that it received a “credible and serious security threat.” Moreover, anti-Muslim callers bombarded the med-center switchboard to the point at which the switchboard shut down, possibly endangering human lives.

    Nice Christians we have here in N.C.

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