A California school district has decided to ban all drawings of religious figures after a parent complained about a 7th-grade class assignment in which students were told to draw the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.
According to a report from Fox News, Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District made the announcement last week, noting that the controversial assignment was part of a Middle School history worksheet called "Vocabulary Pictures: The Rise of Islam."
"I have directed all staff to permanently suspend the practice of drawing or depiction of any religious leader," Superintendent Brent Woodard told the Los Angeles Daily News last week. "I am certain this teacher did not intend to offend anyone and, in fact, was simply teaching respect and tolerance for all cultures."
Images of biblical prophets and deities are considered offensive for Muslims - particularly images of Muhammad.
"Such beliefs are rooted in Islam's horror of idolatry, and generally of anything that could come between man and God, or compromise the uniqueness and indivisibility of God," reads an explanation of this belief from The Economist. "The Koran does not specifically condemn representative art, but it has a lot to say about paganism and idolatry, and Islam is correspondingly wary of anything that could become an idol or detract from the worship of God alone."
Dr. Akbar Ahmed, chair of the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, D.C., also further clarified the issue during an interview with CNN earlier this year.
He explained that unlike Christianity, in which Jesus is considered God's son and, thus, worthy of worship, Muhammad is considered a mere man and is not entitled to that level of adoration.
"It's all rooted in the notion of idol worship. In Islam, the notion of God versus any depiction of God or any sacred figure is very strong," Ahmed said. "The Prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him. So he himself spoke against such images, saying 'I'm just a man.'"
According to Fox, Melinda Van Stone said she complained to the school when her 12-year-old son brought the assignment home in October.
"It's not appropriate to have our children go to school and learn how to insult a religious group," Van Stone said, but would not disclose what religion she or her son practiced.
High Desert School Principal Lynn David said the worksheet was not part of a textbook, but came from supplemental material, and noted that Van Stone was the only parent to complain about the assignment.
The controversy surrounding images of Muhammad has escalated over the past year: in January, Islamist gunmen killed 11 people who worked at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after the publication released photos mocking the prophet.
Then, in April, two Muslim gunmen opened fire at a "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest" at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, which left a security guard wounded.
While condemning such violence, the Rev. Franklin Graham emphasized in May that people should refrain from mocking other religions, explaining that he is offended when non-Christians mock Jesus Christ.
"Muslims are offended when people mock their faith. I disagree with Islam," he said. "But just because I disagree, I'm not going to mock them or resort to violence. We need to show respect to people of other races and beliefs. What happened to civility and respect?"
Greta Van Susteren, the host of On the Record on Fox News, also sided with Graham: "The First Amendment free speech clause right is key to democracy, but how one exercises that right is likewise important," she said. "Good judgment is important."