Apetition supporting the re-instatement of a professor who was fired by an arts college for showing depictions the Prophet Muhammad, which is strictly forbidden for many practicing Muslims, has garnered more than 10,000 signatures.
Erika López Prater was dismissed by Hamline University in November for including in her class discussion a medieval Islamic painting of the prophet receiving Quranic revelations, which features in the manuscript copy of Rashid al-Din's Compendium of Chronicles dating back to 14th century Iran. The private liberal arts college is based in Minnesota.
The day after the lecture by López Prater featuring the images, a Muslim student contacted the college administration to complain. The professor apologized to the student via email the next day but the matter continued to escalate, with Hamline's Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence David Everett on November 7 circulating an email among colleagues describing the lecture as "undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic." Four days later on November 11, The Oracle reported that Hamline's administration had decided to fire Prater.
The Oracle reported that the professor had clarified the purpose of the class discussion and provided a content warning before showing students the image.
"I am showing you this image for a reason," she is quoted as saying beforehand. "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."
An international group of scholars and students—both Muslim and non-Muslim—specializing in Islamic history, studies and arts wrote a letter on December 24 that formed the basis of the petition calling for López Prater to be reinstated to her position at the university. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had garnered 10,400 signatures.
In the letter, the academics "express our outrage" that López Prater was dismissed.
"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," it said. "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)."
"Due process appears to have been entirely suspended, thus raising serious concerns about faculty governance and rights at Hamline University," the letter added.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council also released a statement on Monday in support of López Prater, insisting that she did everything appropriate before showing the portrait and should not have been fired.
"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 Muhammad," the statement said. "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."
Newsweek has contacted Hamline University for comment.