National and local Islamic groups differ over Hamline University’s response to the art dispute
Two national Muslim organizations this week encouraged Hamline University to reconsider its decision not to retain it An art teacher showing pictures of the Prophet MuhammadA state-affiliated Islamist group reiterated its belief that the teacher’s actions were anti-Islamic.
The National Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement on Friday that it strongly discouraged people from displaying images of the Prophet, but distinguished between professors showing them in an academic setting and others who intended to attack or ridicule their faith.
The group said, “What we find un-Islamic is not necessarily anti-Islam, and we must be careful to distinguish between these two concepts.” “Academics should not be condemned as bigots without evidence or lose office without justification.”
The group’s statement — which it said reflected CAIR’s “only official position” — came in direct contradiction to statements made earlier this week by leaders of the group’s Minnesota chapter, which reiterated its support for Hamlin University officials who chose not to renew the coach. for a duration.
Hamlin University administrators find themselves under national scrutiny as groups debate how schools should respond when concerns about academic freedom and religious tolerance seem to collide. Some groups said the university needed to work to support an increasingly diverse student body, while others said it overreached and inappropriately delved into religious controversy.
Hamlin’s board of trustees said Friday that it was reviewing the university’s policies, as well as concerns raised by students and staff.
“Upholding academic freedom and promoting an inclusive and respectful learning environment for our students are both required to fulfill our mission,” the council said in a statement. We will go forward together and we will be stronger for this.”
Scholars and religious leaders have sometimes disagreed over whether Islam allows images of the Prophet Muhammad. Some Muslims argue that images are strictly forbidden to avoid deification of someone other than God. Others have pictures of the Prophet in their homes.
In a global art class this fall, assistant instructor Erica Lopez-Prater showed students two-century-old works of art depicting the Prophet receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel that would later form the basis of the Qur’an. She said she spent “at least two minutes” preparing the students for the photos.
One of her students, Aram Wedatallah, president of the Hamelin Muslim Student Association, saw the warning as evidence that a coach should not display the artwork. She contacted university officials, who later called the action “disrespectfully reckless, disrespectful and anti-Islam”—a description López-Prater found deeply troubling.
Lopez-Prater has been talking to department leaders about teaching another class this spring. The university did not renew her contract.
The university’s response sparked a strong reaction from some professors who feared it could have a chilling effect on higher education.
“It is entirely within this student’s right to object to the acceptance of these images from a religious perspective, or to say that such images are un-Islamic,” said Todd Green, an associate professor of religion at Luther College who teaches about Islamophobia. “At the same time, it is not the professor’s job to adjudicate questions of Islamic faith. Discussions about what is and is not the correct understanding of Islam—or in this case, Islamic art—belong to Muslim communities alone.”
Some national groups promoting academic freedom and Hamlin’s former president raised concerns about the university’s handling of the situation, as did the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which encouraged Hamlin to “reverse his decision and take countervailing measures to improve the situation.”
in Letter to the editorFormer university president Linda Hanson said, “Whether through a miscalculation of the outcome of the decision or through a rushed process that did not explore what Islamophobia is, it is time for the university to bring back the professor and use this incident as an opportunity for discussion, student learning, and support for academic freedom in Hamlin classrooms.”
In a statement earlier this week, university president Vinez Miller said the decision not to renew Lopez-Prater’s contract was made “at a unit level,” and she continued to defend it.
“It is much easier to be criticized, by the security of our computer screens, than to have to make difficult decisions that serve the interests of the entire campus community,” she said.
She added: “In order to do all the good you can partly reduce the harm. This has informed our decisions so far and will continue to inform them in the future.”
At a press conference earlier this week, Dattala and leaders from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reiterated their support for Miller and other officials, saying they have taken steps to ensure students feel safe and respected.
“Islamophobia can manifest itself in a variety of ways,” said Jilani Hussain, executive director of CAIR-MN, who said the least violent or least crude forms are sometimes the hardest to combat.
At that press conference, Wedatallah said she supports freedom of expression — but not when it would be disrespectful. The 23-year-old cried as she told how she had not seen a picture of the Prophet Muhammad before that class.
“It hurts and breaks my heart to stand here begging people to understand me and feel what I feel,” she said.
Staff writer Erica Pearson contributed to this report.