Sacked for showing a 14th century painting to an art history class

Amna Khalid (who is Muslim) writes on the insanity where an art history professor was sacked because he showed an image of a 14th century painting to his art history class.

The painting depicts the Archangel Gabriel delivering to the Prophet Muhammad his first Quranic revelation.

The professor even warned his students that he would be showing the image (so those offended could avoid seeing it) and explained that the so called prohibition on images of Muhammad is not universal in Islam.

But he got sacked all the same. For showing a painting to an art history class.

Khalid notes:

But most of all, I am offended as a Muslim. In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view. The administrators have flattened the rich history and diversity of Islamic thought. Their insistence that figurative representations of Muhammad are “forbidden for Muslims to look upon” runs counter to historical and contemporary evidence. As Christiane Gruber, a professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, reminds us, Muslim artists since the 14th century have depicted Muhammad visually — images that were painted “by Muslim artists for Muslim patrons in respect for, and in exaltation of, Muhammad and the Quran.” Such images were, “by definition, Islamophilic from their inception to their reception.” Far from being forbidden, many Muslims, even today, appreciate such figurative representations. While more common among Shia Muslims, even Sunnis are known to have made such images. (In fact, the painting the professor showed was commissioned by a Sunni king in the 14th century.)

In dismissing the instructor for alleged “Islamophobia,” Hamline has revealed its reductive and simplistic view of Islam, Islamic societies, and Islamic art. In an age when administrators are eager for faculty members to decolonize their syllabi, Hamline’s position is a kind of arch-imperialism, reinforcing a monolithic image of Muslims propounded by the cult of authentic Islam. What administrators at Hamline fail to realize is that in privileging this particular version of Islam, which looks to theology for sanction, they have reinforced the very version that is the product of colonial codification.