University president who supported Muslim students in Prophet image controversy to retire

Fayneese Miller. Pic: Hamline University

Fayneese Miller, the president of Minnesota’s Hamline University who supported Muslim students who were exposed by a lecturer to haraam images of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), has announced her retirement to spend more time with her family.

Miller, who will retire in June next year, was condemned by many American politicians, activists and journalists after she did not renew the contract of a lecturer who upset Muslim students by showing two depictions of the Prophet (pbuh) during a history of art class.

Miller defended her decision saying, “respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede academic freedom.”

The announcement comes two months after the university faculty called on President Miller to resign immediately, saying they no longer had faith in her ability to lead the institution.

But yesterday Miller told journalists that they had misreported the story and had portrayed a “false narrative.”

She said: “We’ve been in the news quite a bit so let me begin by saying that as you report on my retirement you must also acknowledge that we have been reporting on a false narrative. I just want to make that clear… my university believes in academic freedom, we believe in free speech, we believe in all of those things and never has Hamline University violated anyone’s academic freedom. That is not who we are, never have we violated anyone’s free speech…

“We also, however, believe that when we are in this space, those who come to us to learn, to be educated, to be able to take advantage of the educational opportunities that Hamline provides, need to be respected. That is a part of who we are, that is a part of our Methodist tradition.”

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The controversy first broke last October when a lecturer, Erika López Prater, 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).

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.

That sparked an outcry from academics who said the president was bowing to the will of students while trampling on academic freedom and the obligation of faculty to teach students about challenging issues without fear.

López Prater, in turn, sued, alleging religious discrimination and defamation.

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