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Abcarian: Firing a professor for displaying college students a picture of the prophet Muhammad is out of line


The artwork historical past teacher was diligent, empathetic and delicate. She gave loads of warning, together with in her class syllabus, letting her college students know forward of time that she deliberate to indicate them historic depictions of the prophet Muhammad as a part of her international artwork historical past course at Hamline University, a personal liberal arts school in Minnesota.

The instructor, Erika López Prater, 42, did this as a result of she was conscious that many Muslims consider displaying the face of the prophet is a form of blasphemy, and that a few of her Muslim college students would possibly take offense on the pictures she deliberate to indicate. In any case, their participation within the lesson was non-obligatory. As it occurs, the pictures she deliberate to indicate are lots of of years previous and regarded a masterpieces of Islamic artwork.

The class occurred on-line on Oct. 6, and once more, any pupil who didn’t want to view the pictures didn’t need to. According to Hamline’s pupil newspaper, the Oracle, which obtained a recording of the category, the professor gave a content material warning, described the pictures — in a single from the sixteenth century, Muhammad’s face is veiled; within the different, from the 14th century, it isn’t — and spoke about their “controversial nature” for greater than two minutes earlier than displaying them.

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

“There is,” López Prater instructed her college students, “this common thinking that Islam completely forbids, outright, any figurative depictions or any depictions of holy personages. While many Islamic cultures do strongly frown on this practice, I would like to remind you there is no one, monothetic Islamic culture.”

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One of her Muslim college students took offense anyway.

“I’m like, ‘This can’t be real,’ ” senior Aram Wedatalla instructed the Oracle. “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.”

Wedatalla, president of the school’s Muslim Students Assn., complained to directors. Two days after the category, López Prater apologized to Wedatalla, who made the e-mail accessible to the Oracle: “I would like to apologize that the image I showed in class … made you uncomfortable and caused you emotional agitation. It is never my intention to upset or disrespect students in my classroom…. I am sorry that despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still viewed and were troubled by this image.”

And actually, that ought to have been the tip of it.

Administrators quickly introduced they’d not invite López Prater again for the next semester, primarily firing her — she was an adjunct professor with no tenure protections. David Everett, Hamline’s affiliate vp of inclusive excellence, wrote that her lesson was “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

Another e mail from the administration mentioned that “respect for observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

In early December, the college additionally organized a discussion board about Islamophobia, the place an area advocate for Muslim civil rights defended the college’s motion, based on the New York Times. “If this institution wants to value those students,” Jaylani Hussein, government director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, mentioned, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”

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In the broader tutorial world, the college’s dealing with of the grievance ignited a firestorm that unfold to the mainstream media.

PEN America, which helps free expression, accused Hamline of “academic malpractice” and known as its remedy of López Prater, who didn’t reply to my request for remark, “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory.”

In a press release launched Monday, the Muslim Public Affairs Council declared flatly of the 14th century picture, “The painting was not Islamophobic.”

It went on to level out that López Prater was emphasizing “a key principle of religious literacy: religions are not monolithic in nature, but rather, internally diverse. This principle should be appreciated in order to combat Islamophobia, which is often premised on flattening out Islam.”

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Carleton College affiliate historical past professor Amna Khalid, who’s Muslim, wrote that “barring a professor of art history from showing this painting, lest it harm observant Muslims in class, is just as absurd as asking a biology professor not to teach evolution because it may offend evangelical Protestants in the course.”

A number one scholar of Islamic artwork additionally took concern with Hamline’s place on displaying the work, which depicts Muhammad receiving his first Quranic revelation by way of the angel Gabriel.

“Hamline administrators have labeled this corpus of Islamic depictions of Muhammad, along with their teaching, as hateful, intolerant and Islamophobic,” wrote University of Michigan artwork historical past professor Christiane Gruber in New Lines Magazine. “And yet the visual evidence proves contrary: The images were made, almost without exception, by Muslim artists for Muslim patrons in respect for, and in exaltation of, Muhammad and the Quran. They are, by definition, Islamophilic… . How did Hamline arrive at such a flawed conclusion?”

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Good query.

My guess: Because we dwell in a world the place marginalized teams are uninterested in being handled as outsiders, uninterested in being discriminated towards. Apologies aren’t sufficient, and blood have to be drawn. Nowadays, particularly on school campuses, emotions rule supreme and phrases generally lose their which means. This is how a professor who’s respectfully educating the significance and worth of Islamic artwork is fired, then tarnished as Islamophobic.

Listen, all of us can think about situations the place spiritual perception and tutorial observe collide, and the place spiritual perception could also be presumed to be the extra necessary worth — for instance, giving a go to a biology pupil who refuses for spiritual causes to dissect a fetal pig or pith a frog. After all, such a pupil just isn’t making an attempt to forestall different college students from doing the work.

The concept that nobody ought to have the ability to research traditionally necessary pictures of Muhammad on a school campus as a result of some Muslim college students object to them on spiritual grounds is intellectually indefensible.

I hope that Hamline University officers, as a substitute of digging in, acknowledge their mistake and reinstate López Prater.

And that the scholars who had been offended will come to know that they will dwell out their convictions with out trampling on the rights of others.



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