A University professor has been shown the way out for showing 14th Century painting of the Prophet Muhammad to class after a Muslim student complained that it offended her faith – despite warning before the image was put on screen
A Minnesota adjunct professor has been fired for showing an image of the Prophet Muhammed to a class that included a Muslim student who complained about it offending her religion.
Erika López Prater, 42, was let go from her position at Hamline University in Saint Paul despite warning students ahead of time about the 14th-century imagery, according to DailyMail.com.
Many practicing Muslims do not believe in looking at pictures of the Prophet Muhammad as they believe it may lead to worshipping an image.
With that in mind, Prater warned her class before she cast the image on her screen, giving them the chance to leave the room if they wished, Daily mail states in its report.
Muslim student Aram Wedatalla chose to stay in the room. She says she was ‘blindsided’ by the images that followed. She and the school’s Muslim Association then complained to the school and Lopez Prater was fired. The school has since called the incident ‘Islamophobic’.
The report from the New York Times stated the syllabus issued by the lecturer notified students they would see holy figures across religions, including the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha.
López Prater allegedly gave students a heads up moments before the painting was shown, giving them another chance to leave the room if they didn’t feel comfortable looking at the picture.
Again, no students brought any concerns or exited the classroom during the October lecture.
Despite the warnings, senior Aram Wedatalla, a Muslim in the class, said she was blindsided by the image.
‘I’m like, “This can’t be real,” said Wedatalla in an interview with the school’s newspaper.
‘As a Muslim and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them,’ the student said.
Wedatalla, a member of the Muslim Student Association, then gained support from Muslim students who were not in the class but called the incident an attack on their religion.
After the class ended, Wedatalla stuck around to speak with López Prater.
The conversation prompted the professor to sent an email to her department head, Allison Baker, to give her a heads up about the situation.
Baker, the chair of the digital and studio art department, responded by saying: ‘It sounded like you did everything right.’
‘I believe in academic freedom so you have my support,’ Baker wrote.
The group demanded officials take action and the movement led to López Prater, a first time adjunct, not being welcomed back for the spring semester.
Deangela Huddleston, a Hamline senior and Muslim Student Association member, said of the incident: ‘Hamline teaches us it doesn’t matter the intent, the impact is what matters.’
A spokesperson for Hamline said López Prate ‘received an appointment letter for the fall semester, and taught the course until the end of the term.’
According to DailyMail.com, officials at Hamline University request for a statement on the professor’s firing did not get a reply by the time of its publication.
At a town hall following the incident, an invited Muslim speaker ‘compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good’ according to the New York Times.
The university president also said in her letter that while academic freedom ‘is very important’ it should ‘not have to come at the expense of care and decency toward others.
In a statement to one outlet last week, a school representative said they strive to make all students ‘feel safe, supported, and respected both in and out of our classrooms.’
The firing also sparked backlash from those who believed the firing was an attack on academic freedom.
One Islamic art historian penned an essay defending Dr. López Prater and started a petition which received thousands of signatures demanding the university’s board investigate the incident.
Another organization, PEN America, called her firing: ‘one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory.’
According to AboutIslam.net, the practice of avoiding the images goes back centuries and stems from the fear of the images sending the wrong message.
‘In Islam there has always been a prohibition on making images of God and His Prophets,’ the website states.
‘At the start, this prohibition was quite simply to avoid the temptation of worshiping the images themselves, as people had done for centuries,’ the site continues.
‘As far as depicting the Prophet is concerned, Muslims don’t make pictures or statues of Prophet Muhammad for a clear reason. The reason is not that images or art are wicked or evil, but that images can lead to a wrong understanding.’
The author of the post, Idris Tawfiq, states that depicting the Prophet Muhammad may make him seem like a holier figure, when he was just a man.
‘Prophet Muhammad was a man. He was not a saint or a god, but a simple man. The love in which he is held by Muslims is intense. Creating statues and pictures of that man can lead people to see in a man something more than he was,’ Tawfiq writes.