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Statement of Support for Art Professor Fired from Hamline University... University Does Complete 180

It is with great concern that the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) views the firing of an art professor, Erika López

Prater, from Hamline University on the grounds of showing a fourteenth-century painting depicting the Prophet Muḥammad. We issue this statement of support for the professor and urge the university to reverse its decision and to take compensatory action to ameliorate the situation.

News sources report that the matter reached the university administration after a Muslim student complained to them about the professor showing the image in class. Subsequently, undergraduate students at the university received an email from the administration declaring the incident to be “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” Because the professor was hired as an adjunct, her contract was not renewed and she was effectively fired. 

As a Muslim organization, we recognize the validity and ubiquity of an Islamic viewpoint that discourages or forbids any depictions of the Prophet, especially if done in a distasteful or disrespectful manner. However, we also recognize the historical reality that other viewpoints have existed and that there have been some Muslims, including and especially Shīʿī Muslims,  who have felt no qualms in pictorially representing the Prophet (although often veiling his face out of respect). All this is a testament to the great internal diversity within the Islamic tradition, which should be celebrated.  

This, it seems, was the exact point that Dr. Prater was trying to convey to her students. She empathetically prepared them in advance for the image, which was part of an optional exercise and prefaced with a content warning. “I am showing you this image for a reason,” stressed the professor:

There is 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.

The painting was not Islamophobic. In fact, it was commissioned by a fourteenth-century Muslim king in order to honor the Prophet, depicting the first Quranic revelation from the angel Gabriel. 

Even if it is the case that many Muslims feel uncomfortable with such depictions, Dr. Prater was trying to emphasize 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 and viewing the Islamic tradition in an essentialist and reductionist manner. The professor should be thanked for her role in educating students, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and for doing so in a critically empathetic manner. 

In a time of rampant Islamophobia, highly offensive and racialized images of the Prophet Muḥammad abound on the internet and on social media. We consider these images to be inappropriate and not dissimilar to “black face” or Anti-Semitic cartoons; even if such images and their makers are protected by law, social opprobrium is due to them by all those who are reasonable and decent. As Muslims, of course, we must respond in a calm and graceful manner as befits our religion: 

 The servants of the Compassionate are those who walk humbly upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them [with insulting words], they respond, ‘peace.’ 

(Q 25:63)

Given the ubiquity of Islamophobic depictions of the Prophet Muḥammad, it hardly makes sense to target an art professor trying to combat narrow understandings of Islam. There is an unmistakable irony in the situation, which should be appreciated. Additionally, misusing the label “Islamophobia” has the negative effect of watering down the term and rendering it less effective in calling out actual acts of bigotry.

Finally, we stress the importance of education in the Islamic tradition. On the basis of our shared Islamic and universal values, we affirm the need to instill a spirit of free inquiry, critical thinking, and viewpoint diversity in the university setting

Full article:  Statement of Support for Art Professor Fired from Hamline Universit...

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Comment by Bilal Mahmud المكافح المخلص on January 12, 2023 at 7:08am
"It is our understanding that Dr. López Prater noted in her syllabus that such images would be
included in the course, that the visual exercise and discussion were optional, and that she gave verbal cues both before and after the image was shown in their online class."

According to a report published by The New York Times, the 42-year-old adjunct professor was let go from her job at the university even though she warned students ahead of her presentation about the 14th-century painting, along with other images of holy figures like the Buddha.

Full article:  What did Erika Lopez Prater do? Petition in support of fired Hamlin...

More Information:  (1) Dr. López Prater - Search Results | Facebook

Comment by Bilal Mahmud المكافح المخلص on January 12, 2023 at 9:26am

Two people at the center of the controversy at Hamline University over academic freedom that has gained

A person speaks during a news conference

international attention spoke Wednesday about how the incident has impacted their lives.

Aram Wedatalla, who is the head of Hamline’s Muslim Student Association, said she was blindsided by an image of the Prophet Muhammad presented in her World Art class at Hamline last fall. 

“I’m 23 years old. I have never once seen an image of the Prophet,” said Wedatalla fighting back tears during a press conference held Wednesday at the Minneapolis headquarters of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) 

Full article:  Hamline student, former instructor at center of debate over religio..

“This includes showing and discussing both representational and non-representational depictions of holy figures (for example, the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, and the Buddha). If you have any questions or concerns about either missing class for a religious observance or the visual content that will be presented, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

Comment by Bilal Mahmud المكافح المخلص on January 15, 2023 at 1:22pm

CAIR Announces Official Position on Hamline University Controversy, Islamophobia Debate

Muslim civil rights and advocacy group says “no evidence” classroom lesson was Islamophobic, expresses support for Muslim students.

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/13/2023) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today released an official, nationwide position statement in response to a controversy at Minnesota’s Hamline University involving visual representations of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) in the classroom.

“Although CAIR’s national headquarters normally does not comment on local issues that arise in states with one of our state chapters, we must sometimes speak up to clarify where our entire organization stands on issues of national concern,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “This is one of those times.” 

In its statement, CAIR reaffirmed its longstanding policy of discouraging the display of images of the Prophet while also noting that the academic study of ancient paintings depicting him does not, by itself, constitute Islamophobia. CAIR also said that it has seen “no evidence” that former Hamline University professor Erika Lopez Prater had bigoted intent or engaged in Islamophobic conduct in the classroom.

READ FULL STATEMENT HEREOfficial CAIR Statement on Islamophobia and Hamline University Cont...

In the statement, CAIR said in part: 

“For almost thirty years, CAIR has been…exposing, countering, and preventing incidents of Islamophobia. This pervasive form of bigotry harms countless people here in America and around the world. We never hesitate to call out Islamophobia, but we never use the word Islamophobia lightly. It is not a catch-all term for anything that we find insensitive, offensive or immoral. To determine what constitutes an act of anti-Muslim bigotry or discrimination, we always consider intent, actions and circumstances…”

“Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the Prophet, we recognize that professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense. Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that Professor Erika López Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia… 

“Academics should not be condemned as bigots without evidence or lose their positions without justification.”

CAIR also expressed support for Muslim students at Hamline University and encouraged schools to consider the perspective of students who argue that displaying depictions of Prophet in the classroom is harmful and also unnecessary, given they represent a small and late-stage part of the vast Muslim art history.

CAIR encouraged school officials, academics, students and others involved in the situation at the local and national level to re-examine the controversy with open minds, and pledged to do what it can to help resolve the conflict.

[NOTE: CAIR noted that its statement today represents the sole official and authorized position of the organization. Any past comments which contradict the statement do not represent CAIR’s position.]


Islamic artwork and iconography dating back to early Muslim history center largely around calligraphy and geometric designs because of ancient teachings that limited, discouraged or outright forbade the drawing of living beings, especially Prophets and other figures whose images might be subjected to idolatry. No images of the Prophet were drawn during or anywhere near his lifetime.

Many Muslims therefore consider visual depictions of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) sacrilegious and offensive. However, Muslim artists in some regions of the world did draw paintings depicting the Prophet hundreds of years after his passing, and some Muslims use certain images as part of their religious practices.

Like many other American Muslim institutions, CAIR has condemned anti-Muslim extremists who create or display images of the Prophet to cause offense. CAIR and others have also respectfully discouraged mainstream institutions from showing images of him meant to be positive. 

In 1997, sixteen major American Muslim groups, including CAIR, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to respect Islamic teachings and the sentiments of most Muslims by altering or removing a frieze that depicted the Prophet in an attempt to honor him as a “great lawgiver.” 

However, Muslim groups did not describe the Court as Islamophobic because its intent was not bigoted.

Comment by Bilal Mahmud المكافح المخلص on January 15, 2023 at 1:26pm

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Comment by Bilal Mahmud المكافح المخلص on January 18, 2023 at 5:14am

Hamline University officials made an about-face on Tuesday in its treatment of a lecturer who showed an image

Hamline University at night. Snow is on the ground, and a large yellow building is lit up.

of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, walking back one of their most controversial statements — that showing the image was Islamophobic. They also said that respect for Muslim students should not have superseded academic freedom.

University officials changed their stance after the lecturer, who lost her teaching job, sued the small Minnesota school for religious discrimination and defamation.

“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the president. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

Full article:  After Lecturer Sues, Hamline University Walks Back Its ‘Islamophobi...


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