American Civic Life
The Hamline University Muhammad Controversy: What Happened?
January 13, 2023
- In October 2022, an art history instructor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, showed a highly regarded 14th century painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s call to prophecy from the angel Gabriel.
- Art history scholars, in widespread efforts to diversify and decolonize global survey courses, frequently include this and other Islamic artworks in their university classes.
- The instructor gave written and verbal notifications to the online class that the image would be shown and allowed students the option to participate. One student who is also president of the Muslim Student Association let administration know of the incident saying that it was disrespectful to Muslims as some believe Islam prohibits depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
- The instructor’s contract wasn’t renewed, but organizations including the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and individuals have called for the instructor’s instatement.
Comments on the controversy:
- Ali Asani, professor of Islamic religion and culture at Harvard told Religion News Service, “To make blanket statements that this is prohibited, especially the image in question, is absolutely wrong. It shows illiteracy about religion.”
- Christiane Gruber, professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan writes, “Through conflation or confusion, Hamline has privileged an ultraconservative Muslim view on the subject that happens to coincide with the age-old Western cliché that Muslims are banned from viewing images of the prophet.”
- Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, wrote in an email that respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was brought onto campus to lead a conversation about Islamophobia, and said, “For us Muslims, it is blasphemy. We don’t have any of those images, we don’t share those images, regardless of who drew it … it doesn’t matter. Any depictions of Prophet Muhammad is frowned upon. It is an act of insult.”
- 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 her student newspaper. “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.”
- Religion News Service: An image of the Prophet Muhammad ignites an academic storm by Yonat Shimron
- The Hamline Oracle: Who Belongs? by Kimia Kowsari
- New Lines Magazine: An Academic Is Fired Over a Medieval Painting of the Prophet Muhammad by Christiane Gruber
- The Conversation: Islamic paintings of the Prophet Muhammad are an important piece of history – here’s why art historians teach them by Christiane Gruber
- Artnet: A Minnesota University Is Under Fire for Dismissing an Art History Professor Who Showed Medieval Paintings of the Prophet Muhammad by Sarah Cascone
- Twin Cities Pioneer Press: Hamline University dismisses instructor for art class depictions of Prophet Muhammad by Josh Verges
- The New York Times: A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job. By Vimal Patel
- Minnesota Public Radio News: Hamline student, former instructor at center of debate over religion, academic freedom speak out By Nina Moini
- Religion News Service: The role of Blackness in the Hamline Islamic art controversy by Kayla Renee Wheeler and Edward E. Curtis IV
- Muslim Public Affairs Council: Statement of Support for Art Professor Fired from Hamline University
American Civic Life
Religious Diversity is My Day Job. The Hamline Muhammad Controversy Isn’t Easy.
Interfaith America’s Response to the Recent Events at Hamline University
Art, Religion, & Academic Freedom
A distinguished panel of educators discuss the recent events at Hamline University and suggest constructive ways for leaders in higher education and other sectors to navigate conflicts in a religiously diverse democracy.Learn more