An adjunct professor of liberal arts, Dr. Erika Lopez Prater, has been fired for displaying the ancient image of Prophet Muhammad during class. Prater was disengaged from her services at Hamline University, a small and private university with about 1,800 students in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Before displaying the image of Muhammad in her October 6 class, Prater had warned students in the syllabus that 14th-century paintings of Muhammad and the Buddha would be presented in the course of the teaching. She warned any students who opposed the idea of showing the images to contact her before the actual class began – but no student did.
Prater also warned students a few minutes before commencing the art history class that an image of Muhammad would be shown and that any students who might be offended by the image could leave the class. The lecturer said she took these initial steps because she was aware that some Muslims did not approve of displaying or depicting Muhammad in any works of art.
She said she gave students a head up so as not to offend the religious sensibilities of anyone. But a female student who claimed to be from Sudan, Aram Wedatalla, raised objections about the use of imagery in the class, saying it is an attack on her religion. Wedatalla, who is the president of the Muslim Students Association at Hamline, filed a complaint to school administrators – and Prater was subsequently fired.
“I’m like, ‘This can’t be real,’” Wedatalla said. “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.”
Prater began teaching at Hamline University in the fall, but the institution told her that her services would not be required at the school again in the next semester. The president of the university, Fayneese Miller, then wrote to the students apologizing for the incident and assuring them that respect for religion is more important than academic freedom at the institution.
The vice president for inclusive excellence at the school, David Everett, said on November 7 that displaying the image of Muhammad was “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic” despite the prior warnings issued by Prater.
“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,” Miller stated.
According to the university president, “to look upon an image of the Prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith. 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.”