Image courtesy of Edinburgh University Library, Scotland (Wikipedia CC
***This piece has been updated to include the name of the instructor***
A depiction of Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel has led to the sacking of the Hamline University instructor after a student, who is also president of the Muslim Student Association, threw a hissy fit.
According to Religion News Service, Aram Wedatalla complained to the administration, saying it was offensive and disrespectful to Muslims.
In the university’s student paper, The Oracle, Wedatalla was quoted last December as saying:
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.
Erika Lopez Prater, who gave students both written and verbal warnings that the medieval Islamic painting would be shown and allowed students not to participate if they didn’t want to, was forced into a position of having to apologise:
I would like to apologize that the image I showed in class on [Oct. 6] made you uncomfortable and caused you emotional agitation. It is never my intention to upset or disrespect students in my classroom.
Wedatalla’s infantile complaint and the instructor’s dismissal sparked a row and led to a petition “in Support of the Dismissed Hamline Instructor Wrongly Accused of Islamophobia.”
As of today the petition has garnered almost 2,500 signatures.
It is our understanding that the Hamline instructor noted in their syllabus that such images would be included in the course, that the visual exercise and discussion were optional, and that they gave verbal cues both before and after the image was shown in their online class.
The student who complained about its inclusion in the course was thus given not one but several opportunities to not engage with the image (and it should be noted that a number of faculty do not include such warnings or options to disengage from historical evidence in their courses).
Shamefully, the Baptist-affiliated university reacted to Wedatalla’s complaint by telling students who supported the academic that the display of the image was:
Undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.
The instructor’s contract was not renewed, and a spring semester class the instructor was supposed to teach was canceled.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has called on Hamline to reinstate the instructor, saying that:
Minnesota’s Hamline University has betrayed its commitment to “embrace” free expression, including potentially “unpopular and unsettling” ideas.
A university spokesperson did not respond to emails or phone messages.
The painting in question, a prized medieval painting included in a manuscript written by a 14th-century Muslim statesman and scholar, illustrates Mohammed’s call to prophecy by the Angel Gabriel. It shows Gabriel pointing to MMohammed, instructing him to recite God’s words.
Not all Muslims are offended
Muslim scholars, according to RNS, have rushed to defend the painting, owned by the Edinburgh University Library, saying it was intended to extol Mohammed, not to denigrate him.
Said Ali Asani, professor of Islamic religion and culture at Harvard:
To make blanket statements that this is prohibited, especially the image in question, is absolutely wrong. It shows illiteracy about religion.
Reached by Religion News Service, several Muslim scholars said pictorial representations of Mohammed are not typically controversial in an academic study.
Said Omid Safi, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University:
I tell students we’re going to be looking at Muslim devotional art. I know some students may not have seen these before, and some may have even been told it’s not done, but it’s a historic part of the tradition.
Safi said he doesn’t give students the choice to opt out, as the Hamline instructor did.
Jyllands-Posten’s Mohammed cartoon from 2005 and Charlie Hebdo’s 2011 cover. Image via the National Review.
RNS suggested that the aversion to any depiction of the “prophet” may in part be due to the “offensive cartoons” of Big Mo published in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. In that instance, two Muslims marched into the offices of the magazine and killed of 12 Charlie Hebdo employees.
University administrators, however, have defended their actions, suggesting that showing the image was “hurtful” to Muslim students.
Image via Hamline University
In a Dec 9, 2022, letter, Hamline President Fayneese Miller, above, wrote:
It is not our intent to place blame; rather, it is our intent to note that in the classroom incident—where an image forbidden for Muslims to look upon was projected on a screen and left for many minutes—respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.
If anyone should be sacked its Miller for her moronic response.
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