By Lisa O’donnell
Wake Forest University hired Imam Khalid Griggs as an associate chaplain to serve the needs of Muslim students, staff and faculty and promote religious diversity on its campus.
Two years later, his hiring has created some waves of dissatisfaction, even anger, among some alumni, resulting in inflammatory accusations circulating on the Internet that link him to a radical Islamic group.
The outrage over Griggs’ hiring, however, appears to be limited to a vocal few and has not affected donations to the university, officials said.
Mark Petersen, the vice president of University Advancement, said the majority of alumni and donors have been supportive of Griggs’ position on campus.
“With regard to donations, the university has seen no impact from these articles on giving,” he said. “In fact, donations to the university as a whole have dramatically increased over the past two years.”
Donations in fiscal year 2011 were up more than 40 percent over the previous year; and donations are up 22 percent this fiscal year, compared with the same time last year, Petersen said.
Wake Forest’s student newspaper, the Old Gold & Black, recently wrote about how Griggs’ hiring has affected donations, citing anecdotal instances where donors have complained to student phone solicitors.
One woman complained to a student that she will no longer make contributions as long as an imam is on staff, the newspaper reported.
Griggs is the imam of the Community Mosque on Waughtown Street. He said he has not received one negative comment since starting at Wake Forest.
“I’ve been very warmly received,” Griggs said.
Arthur Orr, the president of the university’s national alumni association, also said he has not heard any dissent among the association’s members, which number more than 30,000.
Griggs’ most vocal critic has been Donald Woodsmall, who received his bachelor’s degree from Wake in 1977 and his law degree in 1981.
Woodsmall, a businessman who lives in Charlottesville, Va., said he became curious about Griggs’ background and found information that he says ties Griggs to radical Islamists. He has contacted President Nathan Hatch and the board of trustees about his concerns, even suggesting that the school hold a symposium on Islamic law, a suggestion that Hatch declined.
“I have donated before,” Woodsmall said, “not large sums, but I wouldn’t donate now.”
Woodsmall has questioned Griggs’ ties to the Islamic Circle of North America, a group that he says is a front for radical Islamic groups overseas.
Also Read: An Interview with Imam Khalid Griggs
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and domestic terrorist organizations, does not list the Islamic Circle as such a group.
Griggs, who served as editor of the Islamic Circle’s magazine, said Woodsmall’s accusations are unfortunate and untrue.
He said his involvement with the group is no mystery.
“I’ve lived a very public life,” he said. “I’ve never tried to hide my past.”
When Griggs was hired two years ago to be the university’s first Muslim on the chaplain’s staff, Tim Auman, the university chaplain, expected to hear some criticism.
“We were kind of expecting pushback and we’ve had a little bit, but it hasn’t been extensive,” Auman said. “Certainly, there’s been a very small minority who have tried to make their opinions known, which is fine. To be honest, I don’t see any of this being threatening to our work.”
The alumni who do find Griggs’ hiring troublesome may be struggling to come to terms with the university’s changing student population, Auman said. The university was founded as a Baptist institution, but severed its ties with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1986.
“Wake Forest has changed a lot over the past several decades,” Auman said. “There’s people who remember the old Wake Forest, and the new Wake Forest is very diverse.
“Even if you look at our Christian community, one of four students self-identify as Roman Catholic. And that’s a huge shift.”
Article Courtesy: Winston-Salem Journal