An evangelical Christian college in Illinois suspended a political science professor on Thursday after she wrote a Facebook post saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. The professor, who is Christian, had said she planned to wear a hijab, the Muslim headscarf, to express solidarity with Muslims in the U.S. who have been the target of an Islamophobic backlash after recent attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, California.
Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, wrote a post on Facebook on Dec. 10, explaining her decision to wear a hijab during Advent, a span of four weeks before Christmas designated by Christian religions as a time of preparation for the holiday.
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
She called on all women to join her in wearing the hijab in “solidarity with our Muslim sisters — for whatever reason.” She said she would wear the veil to work, at church and “on the airplane to my home state [of Oklahoma] that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic).”
Wheaton, a liberal arts college based outside of Chicago, placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave until spring “in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.”
“Contrary to some media reports, social media activity and subsequent public perception, Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions, and is in no way related to her race, gender or commitment to wear a hijab during Advent,” Wheaton president Philip Ryken said in a statement released on Wednesday.
The school said that it rejects religious prejudice and believes strongly in the freedom of expression of religion.
“The freedom to wear a head scarf as a gesture of care and compassion for individuals in Muslim or other religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution is afforded to Dr. Hawkins as a faculty member of Wheaton College,” Wheaton said. “Yet her recently expressed views, including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, appear to be in conflict with the College’s Statement of Faith.”
Hawkins’ suspension sparked messages of support on her Facebook page as well as student protests on Wheaton’s campus on Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Many U.S. Muslims say they are on edge after a recent spate of attacks in Paris and California has led to anti-Muslim attacks. For instance, in recent weeks, a Somali restaurant in North Dakota was set on fire, a Muslim shopkeeper in New York was brutally beaten and two women were verbally assaulted at a restaurant in Texas.
The Muslim advocacy group Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) has said that while it does not have exact figures, anti-Islamic attacks are at an all time high. CAIR itself last week received a package containing a white powder and a note that read, “Die a painful death, Muslims.”
“In the spirit of Advent, my actions were motivated by a desire to live out my faith. Period,” Hawkins told reporters on Wednesday at a Chicago church, where she was flanked by two dozen Christian clergy members.
Hawkins also wrote in her original Facebook post that she reached out to CAIR to ask whether wearing the hijab as a non-Muslim was “haram (forbidden), patronizing, or otherwise offensive to Muslims.”
“I was assured by my friends at CAIR-Chicago that they welcomed the gesture,” she wrote.
With The Associated Press