Muslim practices at Harvard University have ignited a debate over religious tolerance on campus. The controversy began in February after the university closed a gym to men for several hours a week so Muslim women could exercise without violating a religious requirement to wear modest dress in mixed company. The administration also allowed the broadcast of the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast on campus during Islam Awareness Week. Opinion artlicles in the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, denounced both policies, saying they stepped on the rights of non-Muslims. (The New York Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
“Get a grip,” said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post (free registration). It is perfectly reasonable to “set aside a few off-peak hours” so that women who feel uncomfortable wearing workout clothes in public can exercise in peace. And “it's not offensive to have the call to prayer echoing across Harvard Yard, any more than it is to ring church bells or erect a giant menorah there.”
This is so typical of the “wave of arrogance sweeping into America with the wave of Muslim immigrants and students,” said Georgie Anne Geyer in Yahoo! News. Muslim newcomers and visitors almost universally decline to show “respect or even a minimal liking for America or American customs,” yet we’re the ones who are in the wrong if we stand up for our own “religious, social and political customs.” The clash at Harvard is only the beginning, as the clash with Islam will only grow “until America and Europe regain their voices and their self-respect.”
Harvard’s nondiscrimination policy got it into this pickle, said Harvard computer science professor Harry Lewis in The Boston Globe (free registration). The university is so committed to this philosophy that it won’t allow ROTC on campus because the military’s position on sexual orientation violates it. But a school that accomodates “conservative Muslim women” while denying cadets the same courtesy is letting “politics determine what forms of discrimination are inoffensive,” and “that is not what Harvard should be teaching.”
Calm down, everyone, said Ana Veciana-Suarez in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Set aside a separate room to give the Muslim women privacy and everybody will be happy.