A professor in the United States has announced plans to sue a Minnesota university after an argument over displaying a painting of the Prophet Muhammad during an Islamic art class.
Hamline University, a small private school in the city of St. Paul, decided not to renew adjunct professor Erika Lopez Prater’s contract after a student objected to showing a 14th-century painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a class on Islamic art as part of a lesson on Islamic art. Lopez Prater’s Global Art Course.
For many Muslims, visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are strictly prohibited and viewed as a violation of faith. The lawsuit, which Lopez Prater’s lawyers said on Tuesday will be filed in court shortly, echoed the professor’s earlier statement that she had given warnings before showing the image — also in the syllabus and immediately before showing the image. showed — and had volunteered to work with students uncomfortable viewing the images.
The lawsuit alleges that the university subjected Lopez Prater to religious discrimination and defamation and damaged her professional and personal reputation.
“Among other things, through her administration, Hamline has called Dr. Lopez Prater’s actions ‘clearly Islamophobic,'” her lawyers said in a statement.
Bismillah. Today we are releasing a statement to clarify how our civil rights group identifies #Islamophobiahow we deal with images of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and how we view the controversy at @HamlineU. Read this thread or the full statement below. 1/12 pic.twitter.com/MXKiiL67RL
— National CAIR (@CAIRNational) January 13, 2023
Comments like this, now published in news stories around the world, will follow Dr. Lopez Prater throughout her career, potentially resulting in her inability to secure a tenure track position at a higher education institution .”
The incident, which took place in October, has sparked debate over the balance between religious consideration and academic freedom, with the school board appearing to change its stance on the issue amid the backlash.
According to the New York Times, Hamline University’s vice president for inclusive excellence told staff in an email sent in November that the actions in the classroom were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Fayneese Miller, president of Hamline University, and her chair of the Board of Trustees, Ellen Watters, took a more cautious approach, saying that recent “communications, articles, and op-eds” have led the school to “remove our actions to review and re-examine”.
“Like all organizations, we sometimes make a misstep,” the statement said. “To hear from and support our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our feelings about academic freedom. Based on everything we have learned, we have determined that our use of the term ‘Islamophobe’ was therefore incorrect.”
The university did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, but added that it plans to hold two public talks in the coming months, one on academic freedom and student care and one on academic freedom and religion.
The National Headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has also weighed in on the issue, drawing a distinction between showing images of the Prophet Muhammad for academic purposes rather than in a negligent or malicious context and noting some Muslim groups around the world. history “has drawn paintings depicting the prophet hundreds of years after his death”.
“Based on what we know to date, we see no evidence that former Hamline University adjunct professor Erika Lopez Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in behavior that meets our definition of Islamophobia,” the group said in a statement. a statement released last week.
They added that the statement was CAIR’s “only official position across the country. Any contradictory prior statements do not represent CAIR’s position.” The statement appeared to respond to an earlier petition posted by CAIR’s Minnesota chapter endorsing the university’s actions.
At a press conference organized by the local chapter last week, Aram Wedatalla, a 23-year-old senior of the school, had identified himself as the student who made the first complaint.
“It breaks my heart to have to stand here telling people that something is Islamophobic and that something hurts all of us, not just me,” said Wedatalla, the president of Hamline’s Muslim Student Association.