Abkarian: Dismissing a professor for showing students a picture of the Prophet Muhammad is out of line

The art history teacher was diligent, sympathetic and sensitive. She gave plenty of warnings, including in her classroom curriculum, letting her students know that she planned to show them old pictures of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a global art history course at Hamline University, a private liberal arts college in Minnesota.

The teacher, Erika Lopez-Prater, 42, did it because she was so aware Many Muslims believe To show the face of the Prophet is a kind of blasphemy, and some of her Muslim students might frown at the images she planned to show. In any case, their participation in the lesson was optional. It just so happens that the pictures I planned to display date back hundreds of years and are considered masterpieces of Islamic art.

The class took place online on October 6, and again, any student who didn’t want to view the photos didn’t have to. According to the Hamline student newspaper, divination, who obtained a recording of the class, gave the professor a warning of the content, and described the pictures—in one from the sixteenth century, Muhammad’s face covered; In the other, from the 14th century, he wasn’t – and they talked about their “controversial nature” for more than two minutes before being introduced.

Opinion writer

Robin Abkarian

López-Prater told her students, “There is this common thinking that Islam completely, explicitly, forbids any symbolic depiction or any depiction of sacred figures. While this practice is strongly frowned upon by many Muslim cultures, I would like to remind you that there is no single Islamic culture.”

However, one of her female Muslim students felt offended.

“I’m like, ‘This can’t be real,’” Senior Officer Aram Wedatallah told Oracle. “As a Muslim, and a black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I will ever belong to a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that they do. Show it to them.”

Wedatullah, president of the college’s Muslim Student Association, complained to officials. Two days after the class, López-Prater Ludtala, who made the email available to Oracle, apologized: “I would like to apologize because the photo I showed in class… made you uncomfortable and caused me emotional agitation. I never intend to upset or disrespect students in my class… I regret that, despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still see this image and get worried.”

And indeed, that should have been the end of it.

Administrators quickly announced that they would not be inviting Lopez-Prater back for the next semester, essentially firing her—she was an assistant professor with no tenure protection. David Everett, associate vice president of comprehensive excellence at Hamlin, writes that her lesson was “undeniable, disrespectful, and Islamophobic.”

Another email from the administration said that “respect for observant Muslim students in that class should replace academic freedom.”

In early December, the school also organized a forum on Islamophobia, where a local Muslim civil rights advocate defended the university’s work, according to The New York Times. Jilani Hussain, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “If this institution wants to value these students, such incidents cannot happen. If someone wants to teach some controversial things about Islam, teach them in the local library.” .

In the wider academic world, the university’s handling of the complaint ignited a firestorm that spread to the United States mainstream media.

pen america, supporting freedom of speech, accused Hamlin of “academic misconduct” and called his treatment of López Prater, who did not respond to my request for comment, “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory.”

In a statement released Monday, he said The Islamic Public Affairs Council announced categorically from a fourteenth-century picture,” was the painting Not Islamophobia. “

She went on to point out that López-Prater was emphasizing “a fundamental principle of religious literacy: religions are not homogeneous in nature, but rather internally diverse. This principle must be appreciated in order to combat Islamophobia, which is often based on the superficiality of Islam.”

in the history of higher education, Associate Professor of History at Carleton College And Amna Khaled wrote, a Muslim that “forbidding an art history professor to display this painting, so as not to harm observant Muslims in class, is just as absurd as asking a biology professor not to teach evolution because it might offend evangelical Protestants on the course.”

Hamelin’s stance on the presentation of the work, which depicts Muhammad receiving the first Qur’anic revelation through the angel Gabriel, has also been objected by a leading scholar of Islamic art.

Hamlin’s directors have described this group of Islamic images of Muhammad, along with their teachings, as repugnant, intolerant, and anti-Islamic. University of Michigan Art History Professor Christiane Gruber wrote In New Lines Magazine. However, visual evidence proves the opposite: portraits were made, almost without exception, by Muslim artists of Muslim patrons out of respect for and glorification of Muhammad and the Qur’an. They are, by definition, Islamophobic…. How did Hamlin reach such a flawed conclusion? “

Good question.

My guess: Because we live in a world where marginalized groups are tired of being treated as outsiders, and tired of being discriminated against. Apologies Not enoughAnd the blood must be drawn. Nowadays, especially on college campuses, feelings reign supreme and words sometimes lose their meaning. This is how a professor who respectfully teaches the importance and value of Islamic art is dismissed, and then smeared as anti-Islam.

Listen, we can all imagine scenarios where Religious belief conflicts with academic practice, and where religious belief may be assumed to be the most important value—for example, granting a permit to a biology student who, on religious grounds, refuses to dissect a fetus or frog pulp. After all, this student is not trying to stop other students from doing the work.

idea that no one You should be able to study historically important images of Muhammad on college campuses because Some Muslim students objecting to it on religious grounds is intellectually untenable.

I hope Hamline University officials will realize their mistake, rather than get too deep into it, and reinstate Lopez Prater.

And that students who have been offended will understand that they can live by their beliefs without prejudice to the rights of others.


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