Following a disagreement over her showing a painting of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on Islamic art, a professor in the United States has announced that she will file a lawsuit against a university in Minnesota.
After a student objected to her showing a 14th-century painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson on Islamic art as part of Lopez Prater’s global art course, Hamline University, a small private school in the city of St. Paul, decided not to renew the contract of Adjunct Professor Erika Lopez Prater.
KEEP READING list of three items list 1 of three Picturing the Prophet list 2 of three UK Muslims decry move to host Prophet Muhammad exhibit list 3 of three The taboo on picturing the prophet end of list For many Muslims, visual representations of the Prophet Muhammad are strictly prohibited and regarded as a violation of their faith. The lawsuit, which Lopez Prater’s lawyers said would soon be filed in court, reiterated the professor’s previous statement that she had offered warnings before showing the image, including in the syllabus and immediately prior to showing the image, and that she had offered to work with students who were uncomfortable with the depictions.
According to the lawsuit, the university damaged Lopez Prater’s professional and personal reputation and discriminated against her on the basis of her religion.
Her attorneys stated in a statement, “Among other things, Hamline, through its administration, has referred to Dr. Lopez Prater’s actions as ‘undeniably Islamophobic.'”
“Dr. Lopez Prater will be followed throughout her career by comments like these, which have now been published in news stories around the world, possibly preventing her from obtaining a tenure track position at any higher education institution.”
The incident, which occurred in October, has sparked debate regarding the proper balance between academic freedom and religious consideration, and the school administration appears to have altered its position in response to the backlash.
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Fayneese Miller, President of Hamline University, and Ellen Watters, Chair of the Board of Trustees, issued a more circumspect statement on Tuesday, stating that recent “communications, articles, and opinion pieces” have prompted the school to “review and re-examine our actions.”
The statement stated, “Like all organizations, we sometimes make mistakes.” Language that does not reflect our views on academic freedom was used in order to hear from and support our Muslim students. We have determined, based on everything we have learned, that our use of the term “Islamophobic” was incorrect.
The university did not respond directly to the lawsuit, but it did say that it plans to have two public discussions in the coming months about academic freedom and religion and student care.
The national headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has also commented on the matter, noting that some Muslim groups “did draw paintings depicting the Prophet hundreds of years after his passing” and drawing a distinction between showing depictions of the Prophet Muhammad for academic purposes and not for negligent or malicious purposes.
In a statement released last week, the group stated, “Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that former Hamline University Adjunct Professor Erika Lopez Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia.”
They went on to say that the statement represented the “sole official position of CAIR nationwide.” CAIR’s stance is not represented by contradictory prior statements. The statement appeared to respond to a petition that the university’s actions were okayed and posted by the CAIR Minnesota chapter.
Aram Wedatalla, a 23-year-old senior at the school, had identified herself as the student who made the initial complaint during a press conference held last week by the local chapter.
Wedatalla, who is the president of Hamline’s Muslim Student Association, stated, “It just breaks my heart that I have to stand here to tell people that something is Islamophobic and something actually hurts all of us, not just me.”