My Hijab declared my faith in Islam – and got me fired

Andrews University is a private, Seventh-Day Adventist University that prides itself on being one of the “most culturally diverse universities in the nation,” according to the U.S. News and World Report. I attended Andrews University as an undergraduate and graduate student, and was later employed there as a full-time faculty member in July of 2012. I was very excited to be a part of the university again and loved my job as professor and Director of Research at the Physical Therapy Program.

The entire time I was employed there, I always presented myself in a modest fashion, wearing a scarf across my shoulders. I recently moved my scarf, which had always draped and rested on my shoulders, to include covering my head as well. Ten days after I started wearing the scarf on my head, my contract was changed from a “high recommendation to continue, with pay increase and excellence in teaching, research and service” to a “non-renewal contract.” The change was based solely upon my “declaration of faith of adherence to the religion of Islam.”

Hijab was my only declaration, apparently, because prior to my wearing a headscarf, no one asked me if I had converted to Islam after being hired.

I wonder: If I were a male faculty member who started wearing a full beard on campus, would assumptions and statements have been made regarding my religious affiliation? In other words, is there gender discrimination on Andrews University campus?

Hijab is much more than the outer covering we, as Muslim women, place on our heads and use to cover our bodies. It is the hijab of the eyes, the speech, hearing, beliefs, and the ego. It is a piece of cloth that went from my shoulders to my head and is a reminder that I am constantly in need of God’s guidance, and that it is He alone that I worship.

I was extremely disappointed in Andrews University’s decision to not renew my contract, especially when I remembered that the Professor previously in my position for twenty years was Catholic and somehow that was considered acceptable. Other non-Seventh Day Adventists, such Jews and agnostics, were also permitted to hold faculty positions on campus. However, for Andrews University, Islam was deemed an “unacceptable faith” on campus. This diversity of terminology to create barriers between “us” and “them” is exactly what I have been trying to deconstruct for my children, in a society and media culture that is more than happy to label Muslims as the “other” rather than as the “brother.”

Here I was, sending my Muslim children to Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) schools and showing them the connections between our beautiful religions, thinking we could build bridges of interfaith dialogue, respect and understanding between Muslims and SDAs to start the peace process at “home.” Research shows that the presence of minority students, as minority advocates, at universities helps overcome prejudices.

But my intentions were met with something quite different. I was told by the President of Andrews University that, “If I were telling Andrews University that I was wearing my hijab because I was being coerced into wearing it by my ‘husband’ or because I wanted to ‘pretend I was Muslim in order to get close to the Muslim students to convert them’ I could, then, retain my position as a faculty member.”

In other words, Andrews University would support me in being deceitful to our Muslim students as part of its missionary agenda. I am certain that truth is never derived from deceit, and am appalled that this tactic is being utilized for missionary purposes at Andrews.

Truth stands out clear from error and only God can change hearts to embrace all Truth, without any coercion or disguise.

At first I felt abandoned by those who claimed to be my family. Then I felt sad because the knowledge of Islam was so incorrect and yet the university purposely recruited Muslim students (mostly to improve its enrollment of full paying patrons, from what I understand). In my view, there is an intrinsic brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. If one compares Christianity and Islam, it is evident that they hold more of the same spiritual teachings than any other two religions. And the Quran teaches Muslims to respect the “People of the Book and those who believe in one God.”

I was also devastated by the university’s decision to terminate my teaching contract merely because of my “declaration of faith,” as reflected in my headscarf. This was troubling for a few reasons:

  1. The fact that Andrews University seems to care more about what is on my head, than what is in my head as demonstrated by the fact that I received one of the highest Faculty Research Evaluation Reports on campus and excellent recommendations to continue based upon merit in teaching, service, and research, and recommendation for the highest pay raise for 2015.
  2. The future of my own children (one is Christian and two are Muslim) in relationship to the institution.
  3. Non-SDA Students, including Muslim students, on campus felt very marginalized because of this decision and were intimidated by the Administration from voicing their opinion regarding this decision. Furthermore, they were concerned about their own futures at Andrews University, since they are in the minority.
  4. Muslim Students who were actively recruited on campus were required to pay full tuition on campus to attend Andrews University. However, at best, Andrews University will only ever see them as “second class citizens,” with no ability to ever hold faculty status.
  5. I was told that “Andrews University is the Leader of the World Church” and that is the reason to give my contract, as a hijab-wearing woman, was not renewed. However, I believe deeply in the need for the World Church to be the leader of healing for Christian-Muslim relations and not the barrier in order for all children to have a future in this world and for Andrews University to be a true beacon of peace, light, and understanding between the two faiths that are more similar in nature than they are different.

Since being on campus with my hijab, with now greater insight into how Muslim students must feel on campus, it has been quite a shock regarding the negative and extremely prejudiced responses I have received from faculty and staff, such as:

“So, should we expect an explosion from your office now?”

“You know why Andrews University HAD to get rid of you…well, from administration’s point of view you were like a “Muslim Cancer” that had to be eradicated before it grew”

“For Andrews University to hire you back, they would need to dig deep into the cesspool to hire a ‘Muslim”

“Why did you have to go and wear that ‘thing’ on your head? If you just wouldn’t have worn that ‘thing’, you could have kept your job.”

“Why do you keep trying to educate us about Islam with Muslim students. We don’t, necessarily, WANT to be educated on Islam.”

Andrews University, sadly, you have failed your mission to “seek knowledge, affirm faith, and change the world.” Your Muslim students, and the world you seek to serve in the name of Jesus, need bridges to be built, not burned.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is All Knowing and Acquainted with all things.” Quran 49:13

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” Psalms 133:1

“Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” Deuteronomy 4:39

Indeed, amazing are the affairs of a believer! They are all for his benefit. If he is granted ease of living he is thankful; and this is best for him. And if he is afflicted with a hardship, he perseveres; and this is best for him.” Hadith, Sahih Muslim


Dr. Lori Maria Walton, PhD, DPT, MS is a writer, researcher and international lecturer on Muslim women’s issues. She has over ten years experience as a Professor and Researcher, with over 25 peer reviewed publications and numerous national and international invited lectures on women’s issues, including maternal health, intimate partner violence, social justice, & cultural and socio-economic barriers for women in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.  Dr. Walton is the mother of three boys (Harun, Kashif, & Cyrus), who remain at the heart of all matters important.

Photo Credit.


  • Est says:

    Andrews University is a private religious institution. They hire staff based on their objectives and mission. You disagree with their objectives and mission, so you are not a good fit for employment there.

    Iran forces Christian, Zoroastrian and secular women to wear the hijab. I don’t visit Iran, because I do not want to wear a religious garment that goes against my beliefs. I am not a good fit for Iran.

    All of this seems fair to me (except for the citizens in Iran who are forced to wear a religious garment against their beliefs, of course).

    Are things changing? I think so. Institutions which used to make concessions to Islam and Muslims are drawing lines in the sand. I think there is the realization that Muslims do not respect concessions but simply take them as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to ask for more.

    I also think that Islam has gotten such a negative image in the mind of the Western public, that organizations do not fear accusations of Islamophobia or intolerance any more.

    As a Muslim, you will now have to react accordingly as the environment has changed.

    • Alkanphel says:

      What has Iran got to do with the USA? Do 2 wrongs make a right? America claims to be the land of the free, seems more like you are on the slow totalitarian tip toe. From the so called leaders of the world on social issues one would expect better.
      So according to you all American born Muslim’s have no place in the USA due to the religion they believe in? Never heard any of this during the cold war. You know why? Because your media outlets were then focused on alienating Communists, now Islam is the enemy.
      Your bigoted views are what cause home grown terrorism, inclusion prevents it, alienation allows it.
      Your country is going backwards in terms of civil rights, I guess most of the people around during the 60’s black movement aren’t with us any more so your populace allows itself to be indoctrinated by the right wing media.

      • Est says:

        Nobody is kicking Muslims out of America. This woman worked for a private religious institution. They call their own rules. A Jewish temple would not hire me as their cantor. I’m not Jewish, don’t know Hebrew and can’t sing very well. They are perfectly entitled to want a Jew to fulfill that role.

        The author was working for a Seventh Day Adventist institution. She does not fit their employment needs because apparently they consider religion when they choose employees. This is not a civil rights issue. Islam is an ideology, not a race. Seventh Day Adventists have their own beliefs and goals in the world. It is not my business or anyone else’s to tell them how to run one of their institutions.

        By the way, there is nothing wrong with Andrews saying that their ultimate goal is to share their Adventist faith with students. The university was built with the sweat and toil of Adventist believers to further their beliefs. When you visit someone else’s home, you do not dictate how they practice their hospitality. Unhappy Muslims can choose a different school.

        As far as a lawsuit, as American in Heart suggests, Muslims should understand there is a double edge to that sword. CAIR has already been ordered to pay legal fees because a judge ruled their legal actions against individuals constituted harassment. 8/28/2015: CAIR was ordered to pay $9,000.00 in legal fees to the AFLC.

      • Sophia says:

        Excellent reply. I agree with you 100%.

    • jcare says:

      One set of actions by an oppressive culture does not justify the oppressive actions of your culture.

    • Sophia says:

      I can’t believe you are comparing the United States of America to Iran.
      If you did your homework, you will find that Andrews University hire Muslims when they need Arabic teachers. They also hire Jewish Faculty.

  • kim says:

    She is a big loss to the university. This also uncovers the lies in the university propaganda, and its deceitful tactics in dealing with minority students.What a disgrace for the Andrews university.

  • American in heart says:

    Professor. …please sue them and never let go of protecting your rights. This is the only why will do you and Muslim students justice

  • Lester says:

    Lori, I wish you were still at Andrews. You were an important part of that faculty and I have appreciated your insights in Adventist and Muslim friendships. I respect your decision to be a Muslim. I do, however, understand why Andrews would make a choice to have only full time faculty whose mission is to uplift Jesus as redeemer. Adventists are not better than Muslims. You and I know that. But a school whose mission is Christ-centered can choose to have faculty that agree with that. My Imam friends agree with the right of a religious school in choosing faculty who they deem represent it. Wearing the Hijab is not an issue. If I thought they didn’t renew your contract for that reason I would be very vocal even though that isn’t my style! After all, Adventists and Muslims in Pakistan where I lived wear the hijab!

    • Sophia says:

      Lester, I appreciate your professional reply, however, I disagree with you. You made a comment affirming that Andrews University only employ Christian faculty as full-time. This is simply not true. Please do some further research and look at how many Jewish and other faiths faculty currently are appointed full time at Andrews.

  • Ruby says:

    I don’t understand why this article lists Ms. Walton with accomplishments and degrees that are not listed as her degrees when employed in Physical Therapy? “She holds an MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins University, a PhD from Nova Southeastern University, a doctorate in Physical Therapy from Creighton University, and degrees in Physical Therapy and Anatomy & Physiology from Andrews University.” I don’t see that she’s held any degrees or done any research in many of the accomplishments listed above at the end of the article. This makes me question the whole article, especially when I read about this in other blogs and on-line articles that state something slightly different. Are you trying to present the truth or just anger and frustration?

    • asmauddin says:

      These were the accomplishments and degrees Ms. Walton listed for herself. This is a personal essay, not a news article.

  • Sophia says:

    I am so amazed by Dr. Lori Walton’s resiliency and perseverance.She is trying to make positive changes for future generations. I see Dr. Walton as a true American Hero. I know she identifies as being Muslim, but she is an American Muslim. Dr. Walton is an excellent educator, she makes a difference everyday in so many lives.

    Andrews University should be held accountable for their discriminative practices. They can’t simply pick and choose which religion they are willing to accept. If they are a “Christian” University, then they should make it clear that they will only hire Christians. It is a fact that Andrews have many faculty and staff from all monotheistic religions. They also have faculty and staff who publicly identify as Atheists.

    I have the highest respect for Dr. Walton for taking a stand. I hope she can move forward and find a job. She belongs in Academia and she deserves to be in the classroom where she can make a difference.

  • Um Jamiel says:

    Dr. Walton is an accomplished and highly educated woman and one of the most kind hearted individuals I have come across in my life. What Andrews University did to her is absolutely wrong. I don’t care how any one on here making comments tries to justify it. This is the United States Of America not an oppressive nation like Iran. So, that comparison does not fly here. Compare apples to apples. Every Islamic educational institution in the United States of America has educators and administrators that are not of the Muslim faith and some that do not even believe in God. These institutions do not discriminate and do not force their non Muslim students, faculty, staff, and/or administration to wear their head scarf, but they do ask them to dress modestly.
    Please if you are going to comment about what other religions follow and practice do your own research rather than listening/watching what you see in the media.
    God put us on earth to learn and educate ourselves about people who may seem to be different then who we are and how we were raised. We should not live fearing others that are different than us. This is what causes hate, anger, and eventually war. We should be accepting of everyone.
    Dr. Walton it was Andrews loss, not yours. You were too good for them and God has better plans for you.

  • Ghada says:

    It’s their loss sister! Stay strong and follow your heart. Unfortunately its actions like these by leaders, intellectuals, universities that divides our country and feeds hate which is sad to humanity.

  • Kathryn says:

    I am so sad to read that this prejudice has happened against you Lori.

  • Paul says:

    As Andrews receives federal grant and loan money, this is a simple case of religious discrimination, that shouldn’t be allowed to stand.

    Universities have a responsibility to their students, and parents, and tax payers to ensure that they provide the high standard of education that all three are paying for. This does not include a religious test, or a denominational purity disclosure…

    Andrews knowingly hires liberal theologians who do not accept the literal interpretation of scripture, some are atheists who believe in the social benefit of religion, but reject the notion of an actual God, they hire Catholics who reject the 1844 event as celestial intervention, they hire secularists to teach in various non religious departments. I attended Andrews as a student 20 years ago, and had many wonderful conversations with religion professors, and science teachers who absolutely didn’t share conventional Adventist beliefs or accept basic Adventist tenets. It was one of the things that made my university experience challenging and forced me to grow as a person and a thinker.

    This is clearly a case of special pleading against a Muslim woman, especially given Dr Walton’s credentials and highly praised efforts up until she decided to don Hijab.

    Keep in mind that this is within the PHYSICAL THERAPY department. How incredibly inconsequential is one’s religious belief when it comes to rehabilitating the broken? According to Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan….its not a factor at all, in fact focus on status or religion at the expense of healing appears to be the main subject of the parable itself.

    From the outside, it appears as if the Andrews leadership was more concerned about the head scarf than the religious affiliation, as the head scarf, forces them to field racist questions from the Adventist community as a whole.

    Perhaps if the Atheists in the seminary department were brave enough to wear A symbols on their lapels or on the bumpers of their cars they would receive similar treatment, even though the administration has been aware of their religious positions all along.

    Perhaps if the Catholics were brave enough to wear crosses hung openly around their open lapels, they would receive similar treatment from those who have known their religion all along?

    Perhaps, if Andrews University wants the financial benefit of Federal loan money from students and parents and tax payers, It should start behaving like a University instead of a Church.

    • Sophia says:

      Paul, I have to say that I am amazed by your intelligence and wisdom. I wish more people are able to think critically and use deductive reasoning. Thank you for being honest and brave in speaking the truth.

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