Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at Wheaton College, was suspended last month for a Facebook post that read: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated … We worship the same God.” At the same time, she announced that she would wear a hijab as a physical manifestation of religious solidarity. In a statement released by Wheaton College, it is clear that Hawkins’s ill-advised suspension resulted from her post which grouped Islam and Christianity as one.
The actions of Wheaton College come as no surprise, given the anti-Muslim hysteria that permeated in the media after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. As an institution of higher education, however, the college must be held to a higher standard of social responsibility. Through the lens of Wheaton College administrators, it seems as though Christian “love thy neighbor” principles do not apply to Muslims. Hawkins asked, “How well does Wheaton College care for its neighbor in Syria, in the south side of Chicago and in Soweto. And what if the neighbor in the south side happens to be Muslim?”
In fact, in doing so, the college inadvertently mirrors the very same rhetoric, image and intolerance it works so virulently disassociate from — that of Islamic clerics, fundamentalists and jihadists. The “othering” of religions separate from Islam is central to the jihadist cause, and irresponsible measures such as Hawkins’s case only work to strengthen the sentiment behind that cause.
The college also said that, “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer.” While the truth behind this statement is questionable, the bigotry and xenophobia behind it are not. Above all else, the college’s actions have completely skewed Hawkins’s intent to show that a Christian should condemn any form of hate and discrimination of all members of humanity — Christian or not. It is important to note that Hawkins herself did not compare the practices of Christianity, as cited in Wheaton’s statement on the nature of God and Christian prayer, to that of its Islamic counterpart — but rather, like Christianity, Islam is an Abrahamic religion and deserves respect during a time of oppression and discrimination.
The nature of Wheaton’s disciplinary measures is also latent with Islamophobia. By brashly and quickly dismantling the link between Islam and Christianity, the college adds to the criminalization of everyday, non-fundamental Muslims and their image and association as followers of an Abrahamic religion. According to the college’s mission statement, the institution stands to ultimately “benefit society worldwide” — if this is the case, then why does the college fail to offer its hand in faith to Muslims? Clearly, Wheaton College sees those who follow Islam as outside of the label “society.”
At time where women wearing hijab are harassed, beaten and killed, political candidates scream for all Muslims to be kicked out of the U.S. and mosques everywhere are the target of hate crimes and sacrilegious vandalism, it is utterly heart-breaking to see yet another manifestation of discrimination. This is just one of many streamlined acts of isolation.
As a Muslim, I find it debilitating to be “othered” constantly, have to explain myself routinely and live in fear incessantly. I am tired of people shaming Islam with prejudiced rhetoric. It is considerably irresponsible for a college with as much recognition as Wheaton, dubbed the Harvard of Christian schools, to degrade a religion instead of understanding it. I expect much more from an institution of higher education. The school must issue a timely apology to both Hawkins and the Muslim community. Instead, however, the college has begun the firing process for her.
Above all else, Hawkins should be praised for her acts of solidarity despite heavy criticism and professional repercussions. It is people like her who genuinely work to “benefit society worldwide.” Hawkins deserves to be commended for showing that Christians and Muslims alike should get what they deserve: dignity and humanity.
Lida Dianti is a junior majoring in international relations. Her column, “That’s So Racist!,” runs Wednesdays.
This post has been updated for clarity.