Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? It’s a question that has bedeviled theologians and everyday believers for centuries. And this week it may have cost a tenured professor her job.
Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday after suggesting that believers in the two faiths do indeed follow the same God. Hawkins has also been wearing a hijab—the headscarf worn by many Muslim women—as a gesture of what she calls “embodied solidarity” with Muslims this month. She pledged to wear it throughout the Advent season, including while she teaches at the Illinois liberal-arts college, and while flying to her home state of Oklahoma, which in 2010 passed a constitutional amendment banning its courts from considering Islamic Sharia law in decisions.
In a statement posted to Facebook on December 10, Hawkins explained the gesture this way:
I don't love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.
I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.
I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind--a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.
I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.
It’s that last bit that Wheaton apparently objected to. In a brief statement issued Tuesday, the college said Hawkins had been placed on leave “in response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that [Hawkins] has made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam.” In a longer follow-up the next day, the college clarified that Hawkins’s views, “including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” seem to conflict with the school’s Statement of Faith, which all faculty must sign annually. The word “including” in that sentence gently raises the possibility there is more to this story that has not been made public. Hawkins will be on paid leave through the end of the spring semester. (A spokesperson for Wheaton did not reply to a request for comment sent yesterday afternoon.)