National Muslim civil rights group voices support for former Hamline professor

An exterior look at Hamline university buildings02
An art history class at Hamline University, pictured on Friday, is the setting for a widespread debate over academic and religious freedom.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The national Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said today it sees no evidence that a Hamline University professor's showing of an image of the Prophet Muhammad was Islamophobic.

The nation's largest Muslim civil rights group released an official statement in response to the controversy.

Hamline student Aram Wedatalla complained after her instructor, Erika Lopez Prater, showed students a 14th century painting of the Prophet Muhammad. For many Muslims, viewing images of the prophet is forbidden.

The university chose not to renew the professor's contract. Some university officials and Minnesota's CAIR chapter had previously labeled the incident Islamophobic.

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But the national CAIR statement says the academic study of ancient paintings depicting the prophet does not, by itself, constitute Islamophobia.

It said that it has seen "no evidence" the instructor had bigoted intent, and said academics should not be condemned as bigots or lose their positions without justification.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) a public affairs non-profit focused on increasing understanding of Muslims, also released a statement this week supporting Lopez Prater’s decision.

“Even if it is the case that many Muslims feel uncomfortable with such depictions, Dr. Prater was trying to emphasize a key principle of religious literacy: Religions are not monolithic in nature, but rather, internally diverse,” reads the statement.

When asked about the statement made by MPAC, MN CAIR chapter executive director Jaylani Hussein said, “There are Muslims all over the world who you can find who can support any issue whether the majority of Muslims agree on it or not.”