Professor fired for showing art class image of Muhammad with his face visible (something not unusual in the history of Islamic art). Students and university go wild with crazy allegations of “Islamophobia”

December 24, 2022 • 11:00 am

This story is unbelievable but is true. The summary piece in New Lines Magazine describes how a professor at Hamline University, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota, was fired for showing an image of Muhammad’s face to their [the prof apparently uses plural pronouns) class. The professor and class are unnamed. This all makes sense only when you read in the Wikipedia article that “Hamline is known for its emphasis on experiential learning, service, and social justice.”

So here’s what they mean by “social justice” at Hamline.

You’ll get angry when you read the piece, not only because depictions of Muhammad with a face were common in the Islamic world, but because the professor warned the students in advance what they were going to show them and let them opt out if they wanted to. Nevertheless, Muslim students watched, saw the images, and then complained to the Hamline administration, which deemed the incident Islamophobic and summarily fired the professor without giving him a chance to defend himself.

The article below is written by Christiane Gruber, professor of Islamic Art in the Department of History of Art at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and she, unlike the reprehensible and faux-offended students, knows something about the history of depictions of Muhammad:

Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written three books and edited several volumes of articles. She also pursues research in Islamic book arts and codicology, having authored the online catalogue of Islamic calligraphies in the Library of Congress as well as edited the volume of articles entitled The Islamic Manuscript Tradition. Her third field of specialization is modern Islamic visual and material culture, about which she has written half a dozen articles. She also has co-edited two volumes on Islamic and cross-cultural visual cultures. Her most recent publications include her book The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images and her edited volume The Image Debate: Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World, both published in 2019.

She takes the University and its administration to task, and also gives us a good lesson on depicting Muhammad, which is not, contrary to some Muslims’ assertions, invariably an act of blasphemy. Click below to read and be enlightened:


From her piece. The “Oracle” is the Hamline student newspaper, and I’ve put below two articles from it about the incident (also click to read). From Gruber (bolding is mine):

On Nov. 18, Hamline University’s student newspaper, The Oracle, published an article notifying its community members of two recent incidents on its campus in Saint Paul, Minnesota, one indubitably homophobic and the other supposedly Islamophobic. Both occurrences were placed under the same rubric as “incidents of hate and discrimination.”

Islamophobia — which involves hate speech against Islam and Muslims and/or physical violence or discrimination against Muslims — has indeed proven a blight in the United States, especially after 9/11, the rise of the militant far right and the recent political empowerment of white supremacy.

The “Islamophobic incident” catalyzed plenty of administrative commentary and media coverage at the university. Among others, it formed the subject of a second Oracle article, which noted that a faculty member had included in their global survey of art history a session on Islamic art, which offered an optional visual analysis and discussion of a famous medieval Islamic painting of the Prophet Muhammad. A student complained about the image’s inclusion in the course and led efforts to press administrators for a response. After that, the university’s associate vice president of inclusive excellence (AVPIE) declared the classroom exercise “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

Neither before nor after these declarations was the faculty member given a public platform or forum to explain the classroom lecture and activity. To fill in the gap, on Dec. 6, an essay written by a Hamline professor of religion who teaches Islam explaining the incident along with the historical context and aesthetic value of Islamic images of Muhammad was published on The Oracle’s website. The essay was taken down two days later. One day after that, Hamline’s president and AVPIE sent a message to all employees stating that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” The essay’s censorship and the subsequent email by two top university administrators raise serious concerns about freedom of speech and academic freedom at the university.

The instructor was released from their spring term teaching at Hamline, and its AVPIE went on the record as stating: “It was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.” In other words, an instructor who showed an Islamic painting during a visual analysis — a basic exercise for art history training — was publicly impugned for hate speech and dismissed thereafter, without access to due process.

These incidents, statements and actions at Hamline will be for others to investigate further. As a scholar specializing in Islamic representations of Muhammad, however, it is my duty to share accurate information about the painting at the heart of the controversy. I will provide a visual analysis and historical explanation of the image in question, in essence reconstituting the Hamline instructor’s classroom activity. I will then explore these types of depictions over the course of six centuries, with the aim to answer one basic question: Is the Islamic painting at the heart of the Hamline controversy truly Islamophobic?

This is absolutely unbelievable, and I’m going to write to Hamline’s Dean objecting to the firing. It’s not though the pictures, innocuous though they were, were sprung on unprepared students. Gruber goes on to discuss the history of depiction of images of Muhammad, and it’s a good and edifying read.  She concludes that the students, given the history of Islamic art, had absolutely no reason to consider showing the paintings in class as an “Islamophobic” incident. That is, she says, an “ultraconservative Muslim view on the subject.”

Nevertheless, the student newspaper The Oracle, in its article below, and also in the op-ed below that, sees showing the paintings as a direct attack on Islam. The administration, of course, launched a six-alarm attack, damning the incident, deeming it as a hate incident, and even calling for education in “Islamophobia.” All I can say is that everyone involved in this sorry incident, save the professor himself, is a blithering idiot.

Click to read the student newspaper report.

An excerpt from the article (my bolding):

Hamline undergraduate students received an email from the Dean of Students on Nov. 7, condemning an unnamed classroom incident as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” In the month since, the email and the event it references have reignited discussions about the persistence of such incidents at Hamline.

The email, signed by Dr. David Everett, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence at Hamline, did not identify the nature or date of the incident.

The Oracle has since learned that the event in question occurred on Oct. 6, when a professor shared two depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in class, while discussing Islamic art. One was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet and the other was a 16th century depiction of the Prophet with veil and halo.

Within Islam, there are varying beliefs regarding whether the representation of the Prophet Muhammad is acceptable. The majority of those practicing Islam today believe it is forbidden to see and create representations of Prophet Muhammad.

Aram Wedatalla, a Hamline senior and the president of Muslim Student Association (MSA), was in the class at the time the photos were shared.

“I’m like, ‘this can’t be real,’” Wedatalla told the Oracle. “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.” 

Deangela Huddleston, a Hamline senior and MSA member, also shared her thoughts with the Oracle.

“Hamline teaches us it doesn’t matter the intent, the impact is what matters,” Huddleston said.

“Hamline teaches us”, she parrots. Why doesn’t Huddleston think for herself? Of course intent matters, and it did in this situation.  Then the punishment occurred:

After class, Wedatalla spoke to the professor but did not feel that the conversation was productive.

Wedatalla emailed MSA’s leadership team and members of the Hamline administration on Oct. 7, the day after the incident. On this same day, she met with President Fayneese Miller. Dean of Students Patti Kersten also called Wedatalla and apologized for her experience.

And yes, the professor apologized, though they shouldn’t have (after all, they gave a “trigger warning”):

The professor of the class emailed Wedatalla that Saturday, Oct. 8.

“I would like to apologize that the image I showed in class on [Oct. 6] made you uncomfortable and caused you emotional agitation. It is never my intention to upset or disrespect students in my classroom,” the professor wrote in the email to Wedatalla, who shared it with the Oracle.

. . .In the Oct. 8 email to Wedatalla, the professor stated that they “[let] the class know ahead of time” what would be shown and to give students time to turn off their video.

“I did not try to surprise students with this image, and I did my best to provide students with an ‘out,’” the professor wrote in the email.

“I also described every subsequent slide I showed with language to indicate when I was no longer showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad. I am sorry that despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still viewed and were troubled by this image.”

So what were the offensive works of art? You want to see them, right? Here’s how the paper identifies them:

The Oracle was able to identify these two images using video of the lecture. The first was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet receiving his first revelation from the archangel Gabriel, created by Rashīd al-Dīn, a Persian Muslim scholar and historian.

The other depicts the Prophet with a veil and halo. It 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.

I am very sure that this is the first one, from Wikimedia Commons (see also here):

And here’s what I think is the second one, also from Wikipedia commons. Here Muhammad is veiled.

Wow, those would certainly harm you as a Muslim, wouldn’t they?  I refuse to believe that this outrage is genuine: it is a manufactured sentiment ginned up by those taught (wrongly) that it’s an insult to Islam to depict the Prophet’s face.

But the Staff of the Oracle, like Hamline’s administration, also sees it as hate speech:

An excerpt:

Staff Editorial, Staff

In the past year, members of our community have experienced hate speech incidents and microaggressions that have resulted in much-needed conversation.

Recently this year, The Oracle has been made aware of two such incidents. One of which included an Islamophobic incident that happened a few weeks ago and the Dean of Students office informed Hamline about via email on Nov. 14.

. . .Already these two incidents have occurred and communities have been harmed and traumatized. While historically The Oracle’s coverage of hate speech and incidents of discrimination have not always been present, we hope that any and all coverage we do now and moving forward can be a means of platforming voices and experiences and informing readers of steps to move forward and ways of supporting their peers.

We hope that our coverage and our means of communication and publishing can be a resource to our community at all times and in no way do we want to further the impacts and harm of these situations.

This is, to put it mildly, a crock. What a horrible, oppressive, and joyless place Hamline University must be! I wish somebody would snap up the fired professor.

In the meantime, I’ll write an email to Dr. David Everett, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence at Hamline.  This incident is neither inclusive not demonstrative of excellence. It’s divisive, shows the students and administration to be hateful as well as ignorant, and is as far from “excellent” as you can get.

h/t: Stephen

57 thoughts on “Professor fired for showing art class image of Muhammad with his face visible (something not unusual in the history of Islamic art). Students and university go wild with crazy allegations of “Islamophobia”

  1. Three thoughts here:Perhaps I’m just not demanding enough, but if I’m somewhere that I don’t fee comfortable and don’t feel like I am welcome or belong, I go elsewhere. I don’t demand everyone else change everything to suit me. Maybe I just don’t know how to play the victim well enough.

    Shouldn’t the muslim students be offended for being subjected to the hateful name of the university, I mean HAMline isn’t exactly a Muslim-inclusive name, is it? 🤣

    And why are several of those people’s heads on fire in the second painting?

      1. I miss the monkey idols. The kaaba is certainly the poorer for it. Still not sure why having your head on fire is holy and such. Kinda dangerous, especially with those beards. I’ll certainly never look at the Human Torch or Ghost Rider the same way again.

  2. Re “… respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom…”

    If that standard is applied across the board, there is no longer academic freedom.

    1. Actually the article misses the whole point.

      The class probably caters for majority muslim students whose enrolment ensures pays for the overheads (salaries, etc) that the University needs to survive and prosper.

      When the decision is made on the basis of economics then the Professor is fired. If it is made on the basis of justice, then the Professor stays.

      The University decided their bottom line was more important. Money talks, everything else walks.

      So all this faux-outrage is frankly bull.

      1. You don’t know that the class caters for majority Muslim students, and the students claimed they were outraged. I didn’t believe them, and apparently you don’t, either. The University was cowardly. On that we agree. So what are you beefing about the article missing the point? It certainly does not.

        In fact, I don’t know what point you’re trying to make here.

    2. I’m waiting for the day a Hamline student from New Zealand will be offended by them not including Mātauranga in the science classes (if they have any).

  3. St. Paul, Minn. is Ilhan Omar’s neck of the woods, isn’t it? What we are seeing here is the impact of critical mass. A despised minority becomes a a majority culture where, of course, respect for observant Islam supersedes the alien notion of academic freedom. As military commanders say when planning an invasion, you don’t need to outnumber the defenders everywhere, just at the spot you plan to invade.

    The instant firing of the professor shows the university president knows exactly what the disposition of forces is on the ground. Interesting that being non-binary didn’t save the professor. The university is seriously afraid of these people. It’s not just performative virtue signalling.

    1. Yes, Omar represents Minnesota. For a lot of reasons Minnesota has a significant and growing diverse Muslim population, including mass immigration in the recent past.

      Keith Ellison (Attorney General of MN) should look into this as MN has one of the most active chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the United States, whose “mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

      This particular incident seems to highlight that there is a LOT of work to do inside CAIR as they look like they failed on the “Mutual Understanding” part of their mission statement.

  4. I am acquainted with a retired writer of well-regarded children’s books who used to teach in a writing program at Hamline University. Several years ago, she was hounded out of the program on spurious charges of “microaggression”, based on a failure to use words in accordance with the dicta of DiAngelo. The latest example from Hamline confirms her account of the place as a clinical specimen of the new Lysenkoist campus style: the joint exploitation of woke clichés by exhibitionist students and petty martinets in the admin.

  5. Last month the Minneapolis/St Paul Business Journal posted an article (concerning the importance of diversity) in which Hamline was listed as third amongst ten schools in MN in having made the greatest strides, over the past decade, in increasing the “non-white” percentage of undergraduates.

  6. *Sigh* I vaguely remember a documentary about medieval Islam. A detail of it was that over time, images that depicted the Prophet were deemed sacrilegious, and his face would be etched out. I wonder if that is what was more carefully done with the 2nd image.

  7. Fifth district’s Representative Ilhan Omar’s “neck of the woods” is across the river, west of Saint Paul and includes Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Fridley, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Edina and Richfield.

      1. Mock if you like, Ken, but people have been killed and seriously injured in the name of outrage over blasphemy.

    1. I suppose the university is not willing to stake its security on fanatics being unable to cross the Mississippi River. Some of them clearly do to attend classes and protest, since the Muslim population of St. Paul itself is described by Wiki as “relatively small”.

      1. Then they should say they are afraid of violence being directed against the school instead of falsely saying the professor was guilty of being discriminatory and hateful and firing the professor. I agree that such fear is the real motive. They are all both shamelessly dissembling and scapegoating when they blamed, and fired, and then continue to blame, the professor.

  8. What should one expect from a “University” specializing in churning out PhDs in “Sensitivity Training”? 🙂

    1. What should one expect from […] “Sensitivity Training”?

      Major outbreaks of allergies, to everything from peanuts to (what’s the most contra-survival allergy I can think of) water not saturated with table salt?

  9. I like how the first picture shows Gabriel’s wings as part of his arms rather than completely separate as in Western images of angels.

    1. Love that, too. I have seen a collection of Persian art, but it was all secular, so first time I have seen the nimbus as a literal flame. Really enjoyed Professor Gruber’s description of medieval Islamic paintings. Too bad the administrators of this “university” have so little intellectual curiosity.

    2. Yes, that makes it slightly, only slightly, less ridiculous than the western paintings growing an extra pair of limbs from the back, but with modern genetic and embryological manipulation one can expect anything imaginable, I guess.
      What to do with people that positively seek to be ‘offended’? Not giving in, ignoring or dismissing frivolous complaints, would be a good and possibly sufficient first step.
      Also note how the Ctrl left woke smooch with the Alt right fundamentalist Islamists, kinda full circle.

  10. If the professor hadn’t given the class a warning and later admitted that he had deliberately shown the pictures to rile students who he felt were being mollycoddled, I wonder if intent still wouldn’t matter.

    1. The whole intent v. impact issue among progressives is suspect, IMO.

      Consider that in this situation, and most suchlike, the reflexive progressive response is, “Intent does not matter, impact matters.”

      And yet, consider the case of a transgender person. The person’s clear intent is to be seen as the gender they “present” to the world, yet progressives become outraged when others around the person decline to be persuaded by that intent.

      In using the above example I am in no way attempting to denigrate trans people. I’m of the “Rowling School” on this: trans people should be treated with respect and equal under the law, but nobody has the right to demand that others see them as they see themselves.

      In other words, sometimes intent matters, sometimes it doesn’t. And that has more than a whiff of a hypocritical brickbat, to me.

  11. Imagine if PZ Myers did that publicity stunt involving tearing a page of a Qu’ran, today, instead of 15 years ago!

  12. The Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence suggests there is a whole hierarchy of these sorts of admins? And I suppose their job is to figuratively knock on doors in the night and make faculty “disappear”.

    1. Well, at my university, the new Vice President for People Equity & Inclusion recently absorbed the Faculty Relations office into her portfolio, so yes in theory.

      1. That sounds like a clear case of sexual harassment if not worse (no, I didn’t say rape). Nevertheless, being ‘absorbed’ by a Vice President for PEI elicits all kinds of images in this between the ears box.

  13. Etching out painted images of Mohammad as sacrilegious provides a model for the new,
    doctrine-infused university. Faculty members who fail to meet proper DEI religious criteria will be etched out.

  14. Gruber writes:

    After the 16th century, however, not all Islamic depictions of the prophet included the veil and aureole. Images painted and printed during the 19th and 20th centuries reveal that both naturalistic and abstract devices could thrive at the same time. This is especially the case in Iran, where numerous “prophetic products” mix and match motifs, with wide-ranging artistic freedom and creativity. Among them, pictorial greeting cards were common only two decades ago; I myself purchased one in a Tehran market. It shows the prophet, face unveiled and bathed in radiant light, as he points his finger toward the Islamic proclamation of the faith (shahada) inscribed above him while holding a copy of the Quran brimming with the glimmers of divine revelation. Although it is a mass-produced artifact for exchange among Muslim Iranians, other 19th-century Persian Shiite depictions of Muhammad and his family include inscriptions identifying them specifically as “sacred icons” (“shamail-i mubarak”). In both their manufacture and use, therefore, they craft and contribute to a pious Muslim life.

    Hamline administrators have labeled this corpus of Islamic depictions of Muhammad, along with their teaching, as hateful, intolerant and Islamophobic. And yet the visual evidence proves contrary: The images were made, almost without exception, by Muslim artists for Muslim patrons in respect for, and in exaltation of, Muhammad and the Quran. They are, by definition, Islamophilic from their inception to their reception. How did Hamline arrive at such a flawed conclusion […]

    How indeed? Hamline should be ashamed of its ignorant actions and reinstate the professor immediately.

  15. “Microaggressions” always p*ss me off big time: they’re so WILDLY MADE UP, in 2008, by some idiot academic and REALLY took off in public imagination when they are utterly unscientific, utterly unproven empirically. And the phony, anti-brain science idea does a lot of heavy lifting for woke nonsense.
    “Islamophobia” is equally incoherent.
    Islamophobe, Christianity-o-phobe, Judaism-o-phobe, homeopathy-ophobe.

  16. Hope the art professor sues and wins. Reading the school newspaper account put me in a peculiar state of mind. While I knew it was real, it sounded like satire, so I kept slipping back and forth between amusement and horror.

  17. Disgusting. As I’ve said in earlier comments, university administrators need to grow backbones and defend their faculties against student mobs and DEI zealots (that they, themselves, so stupidly hired). In this case, it seems that the administrators were either too weak to do the right thing or, in the case of AVPIE David Everett, so steeped in ideology that he had no choice but to act as the apparatchik that he is. (Of course, he didn’t have any choice in the matter. The atoms and molecules in his brain were already moving as they were moving, guaranteeing the result.)

    Hamline must be a deeply dreary place. The art professor is suffering now, but by no longer being subject to the DEI authoritarians, his future is looking up. I wish him well.

  18. I refuse to believe that this outrage is genuine: it is a manufactured sentiment ginned up by those taught (wrongly) that it’s an insult to Islam to depict the Prophet’s face.

    If a warning was given before the lecture that the images would be shown and Muslims were given a chance to leave before hand if they had a problem with it, but they stayed anyway, then, of course it was manufactured. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the students in question deliberately staying to see the images so they could later claim offence.

    1. Though undoubtedly unprovable in the judicial venue you can still “bet your bottom dollar” this was a set up as you surmise. I had never heard of Hamline before but it sounds like a putrid place and a poor excuse for an academic institution. I really hope this Prof is able to and can successfully sue them and win. TBH though, its too bad they can’t just run themselves into the ground like a bad business. Hey, I am allowed to fantasize yes? BTW…this is the type of thing South Park regularly criticizes through its “PC Principal” character.

  19. People that go out of their way to get ‘offended’, I have as much sympathy for them as for nazis that hate Jews for equally frivolous reasons.
    I have no good comparison for this reprehensible and unconscionable behaviour, it somehow appears that religion poisons everything, and Islam excels there (with a little star).

  20. Unbelievably offensive action on the part of the University. Letting the mob dictate what is and what is not allowed in a classroom is simply un American.

  21. Sad to see the apology for someone else’s interpretation of the events.

    And we have this: “they don’t show the same respect that I show them”. I don’t get the idea of demanding respect, which is something you earn but above all not a human right. The UDHR is based on tolerance such as freedom of expression and tolerance of religion in privacy.

  22. This University has to be closed for discrimination for fire professor showing some of art pictures.This University should be punished for hate crime against this professor

    1. Well, we have one deeply misguided reader here, and one who disagrees with a number of Muslims and Muslim organizations. I would use bad language for “samhangster”, but this is a family website. I’ll just say “read up on your Islam” before you show your face here again.”

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