Duke's Muslim Chaplain Faces Challenges

December 14, 2008

Author: Yonat Shimron

Source: The News & Observer


In September, during the month-long fast of Ramadan, Muslim chaplain Abdullah Antepli arranged nightly meals to break the daily fast for Duke University's estimated 500 Muslim students, faculty members and workers -- a feat never before tried at this Gothic-looking university founded by Methodists.

In December, on the last day of classes, he led Muslim students into a home of their own, a 1,400-square-foot bungalow on the central campus that will serve as the Center for Muslim Life, a place where students can pray, study and eat pizza late into the night.

The twin accomplishments, at the beginning and end of the semester, form an impressive arc for Duke's first full-time Muslim chaplain. But the Turkish-born imam who formerly served as associate director of Hartford Seminary's Islamic Chaplaincy Program, faces a host of challenges.

With his hiring, Duke has demonstrated a commitment to religious pluralism and a willingness to engage Muslim students academically and religiously. Only three other U.S. universities have full-time Muslim chaplains -- Georgetown, Princeton and Yale.

But in a political climate hostile to Islam, it faces criticism. In October, a donor to the Duke Chapel wrote to say she could no longer support a university with a Muslim chaplain. "I feel it necessary to stand up for my Christian religion against what I view as an evil religion at its very heart," wrote the woman, a resident of Littleton, a town in a Virginia border county north of the Triangle. Other letters, Antepli said, had an even harder edge.

See also: Islam, Campus