On Tuesday, Hamline University walked back its statement that a lecturer's actions in class were "Islamophobic" after she filed a lawsuit for religious discrimination and discrimination, The New York Times reports. The lawsuit follows after her termination from her job at the university.
"In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom," Hamline University Board of Trustees Chair Ellen Watters and University President Fayneese Miller said in a joint statement. "Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term 'Islamophobic' was therefore flawed."
The incident occurred in October 2022, when Dr. Erika López Prater displayed an image of the Prophet Muhammad that appears in one of the earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the Islamic world, A Compendium of Chronicles by Rashid-al-Din (1247 – 1318), in her world art class. Aware that many Muslims believe that images of the Prophet Muhammad are sacrilegious, López Prater warned her class and gave them the option to leave the room before she displayed the image, according to BBC News.
"I was teaching a world art class that was meant to be global in its perspective and think about diversity and global connections throughout history," she said in a discussion on the Khanversations with Dr. Muqtedar Khan Youtube channel.
While none of López Prater's students objected during class, a Muslim student stayed after class to express her discomfort with the image as a result of her faith. A complaint was made against López Prater, and a few weeks later, the university rescinded its offer for her to return to teach in the next semester.
This case has sparked national discourse around the question of academic freedom, religious tolerance, and freedom of speech in institutions of higher education, and members of the Muslim community are divided. While some Muslim advocacy groups agree that López Prater's actions were Islamophobic, others disagree. A petition started by Professor of Islamic Art at the University of Michigan Christiane Gruber in support of López Prater has garnered over 18,000 signatures as of the time of publication.
David Redden, López Prater's lawyer, has stated that the university's new statement will not affect the lawsuit, according to The New York Times.