One of the largest Muslim advocacy groups in the United States has denounced the firing of an art instructor from a Minnesota college after she showed an image of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in class.
In a Monday statement, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) expressed its “support” for adjunct art history professor Erika Lopez Prater and implored Hamline University to “reverse its decision” to not renew her contract.
According to reports, Lopez Prater had warned in her course syllabus and in class that she would show an image of Muhammad, emphasizing that students could leave if they did not wish to participate.
“I am showing you this image for a reason. And that is that 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,” she had said during an Oct. 6 lecture online, as reported by Hamline’s student newspaper.
MPAC said Lopez Prater was clearly demonstrating that “religions are not monolithic in nature, but rather, internally diverse.”
“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,” the statement added.
Hamline University, located in St. Paul, has received widespread backlash for its treatment of Lopez Prater. President Fayneese Miller defended the decision to let Lopez Prater go, writing in a campus-wide email last week that “it was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported, and respected both in and out of our classrooms.”
Miller again refused to back down in a statement released Wednesday night, claiming her school is “now under attack from forces outside our campus.”
She “emphatically” denied that the instructor was “fired.” Instead, Lopez Prater was simply not invited to return for the spring semester, according to Miller.
In an interview with the school newspaper, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence David Everett made it clear that the instructor was punished because of the incident.
“In lieu of this incident, it was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community,” he said.
According to a report from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the university is hiding tweets and Facebook comments criticizing its treatment of Lopez Prater. FIRE said it has helped 1,000 people send letters to the university and plans to bring a mobile billboard to campus later this month in protest of the school’s decision.
Despite MPAC’s support for Lopez Prater, however, another notable Muslim advocacy group has expressed its support for Hamline University.
In a Wednesday press conference, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) thanked the university for letting the adjunct professor go, saying her depiction of Muhammad in class was “sacrilegious,” “hate speech,” and “hurtful” to the Muslim community.
“It’s important to remember that academic freedom is not absolute and universities have the right to restrict speech that promotes hate or discrimination,” said CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein.