Religion Professor at the American University in Cairo Loses Position for Refusing to Promote Islam

People walk around The American University in Cairo. Courtesy photo

A Saudi billionaire whose father endowed a chair in comparative religion at the American University in Cairo has pressured the school to take the position away from an American scholar teaching Egyptian students about religions other than Islam, sources told Religion News Service.

According to Adam Duker, who has held the Abdulhadi H. Taher Chair of Comparative Religions at the school since 2016, Saudi businessman Tarek Taher persuaded the university’s president, Francis Ricciardone, to withdraw the title awarded in Duker’s contract after the professor refused Taher’s demand that the professor advocate for Islam over other religions in his teaching and scholarship.

A religious historian of Christian reformation movements in early modern Europe, Duker teaches an ecumenical curriculum that introduces students to the academic study of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, including lectures on Buddhism and Hinduism, in a “Religions of the World” survey course at the university.

Duker said in an interview with RNS that Taher requested that Duker encourage his non-Muslim students to convert to Islam.

“Taher asked to pre-approve my lectures before teaching them and only teach other religions in such a way as to prove they were ‘incorrect’ and to convert students to Islam,” said Duker.

Professor Adam Duker on April 29, 2019, in Cairo, Egypt. Duker introduced his Egyptian undergraduates to world religions at The American University in Cairo, but an influential Saudi donor intervened to stop him. Duker’s departure from Egypt raises questions about religious diversity and academic expression at one of the few American-accredited universities in the Middle East. RNS photo ARA Network

Earlier this year, the university removed the Taher chair from the listing of endowed professorships on its website. School administrators told Duker in July of 2017 he should no longer use the title in conjunction with his official duties and informed him that the donor abolished the chair without offering an alternative post or compensating Ducker for contractual abrogation, according to an email from the provost reviewed by RNS. His last day teaching will be May 15, according to Duker.

The university’s spokesperson, Rehab Saad, declined to comment on the matter, citing confidentiality rules, but confirmed that Duker will no longer be employed by the university.

“We can confirm that Adam Duker, former assistant professor at AUC, has resigned from the University, effective October 2019,” said an email to RNS from Saad.

“The AUC respects the confidentiality of individual personnel cases,” the statement added, referring RNS to the school’s freedom of expression policy. “As a matter of policy, therefore, the University does not comment on questions from the media prompted by employees claiming grievances, while reserving its legal rights with respect to defense against slander or libel.”

Meanwhile, Duker said he had been threatened by the university for continuing to use his title. “Your continuous use of this title is causing financial and reputational damage to AUC, for which we intend to hold you fully liable under the law,” AUC General Counsel Sunanda Holmes wrote in a Feb. 6 email to Duker reviewed by RNS.

AUC was founded by Presbyterian missionaries from the United States in 1919, but within two decades it became a non-sectarian institution. Its 6,500-member student body is estimated to be as much as 90-percent Muslim, with most of the rest being Christian, according to the Egyptian government.

The AUC is also the only Egyptian institution of higher learning certified by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a U.S. credentialing consortium. It has received millions in U.S. taxpayer funding since the 1980s.

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Source: Religion News Service