A university in Minnesota, USA, has let go an art history lecturer who upset Muslim students by showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in an online class.
According to The Oracle student newspaper, the controversy first broke last October at Hamline University where the lecturer, whose name has not been made public, was teaching a global art history class.
The professor shared two depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – a 14th century depiction and a 16th century depiction of the Prophet (pbuh) with a veil and halo.
The 14th century depiction was of the Prophet (pbuh) receiving his first revelation from the Angel Gabriel (as), created by Rashīd al-Dīn, a Persian Muslim scholar and historian.
The other was created by Mustafa ibn Vali in the 16th century as part of an illustration of the Siyer-i Nebi (the Life of the Prophet), an earlier, Ottomon Turkish epic work on the life of Muhammad (pbuh).
The vast majority of Muslim scholars prohibit figural representations of the Prophet (pbuh).
Aram Wedatalla, a Hamline senior and the president of Muslim Student Association (MSA), was in the class at the time the photos were shared.
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“I’m like, ‘this can’t be real,’” Wedatalla told 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.”
Deangela Huddleston, a Hamline senior and MSA member, added: “Hamline teaches us it doesn’t matter the intent, the impact is what matters.”
A month after the incident, the university responded in an email to students condemning the instructor’s decision as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic,” according to an email from the dean of students.
The instructor’s contract was not renewed, and a spring semester class the instructor was supposed to teach was canceled.
University administrators then defended their actions, suggesting that showing the image was hurtful to Muslim students.
In a December 9 letter, Hamline President Fayneese Miller 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on a screen and left for many minutes — respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”
According to The Oracle, the lecturer gave students both written and verbal notifications that the image would be shown and allowed students not to participate if they didn’t want to.
In an email seen by the newspaper, the lecturer said to a student: “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.”
In the video of the class, the professor gives a content warning and describes the nature of the depictions to be shown and reflects on their controversial nature for more than two minutes before advancing to the slides in question.
“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,” the professor said before changing to the slide that included these depictions.
And in a October 8 email to a student, the professor stated that they “[let] the class know ahead of time” what would be shown and to give students time to turn off their video.
“I did not try to surprise students with this image, and I did my best to provide students with an ‘out,’” the professor wrote in the email.
“I also described every subsequent slide I showed with language to indicate when I was no longer showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad. I am sorry that despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still viewed and were troubled by this image.”
A petition calling for the reinstatement of the instructor has collected some 2,000 signatures.