Raising Children in the Face of Islamophobia

Sometimes when I’m sitting down, holding my 6-month-old son, Malik, close to my chest — a bit of anxiety begins to creeps up on me. You know, it’s the typical, not-so-typical concerns of all new moms that keep us up late at night.
What will his future be like? What lessons will life teach him? How will he interact with his surroundings? How will the state of affairs be for him and for other children — for women, men, the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the “other?”
Will things ever be better for Muslims than what they are now? Will he be bullied at school one day because he’s a Muslim? Will he be able to get a job despite his Muslim name? Will he still have a home called America in the future or will we all be shipped out to some island off the coast of Cuba?!
Okay, maybe I am becoming too paranoid. However, have you heard what people are saying these days?
I’m sure our parents had the same concerns for us. They were slightly different. Up until 9/11, the greatest fear they may have had was the thought of their children losing their culture or faith — that their children may become too assimilated that they forget where they came from.
But today, a new fear grows. Today we raise our children in the face of Islamophobia — and it’s scary.
The more I reflect while holding my son, the more clarity begins to form. When has there ever been a time in history where things were fair across the board? Human suffering always existed.
In fact, we see in the life of our greatest Prophet (PBUH) the best examples of tolerance and endurance in the face of hardships and cruelty. He was known by his people to be the most honest and trustworthy.
But after he proclaimed the message of Islam, he was accused of insanity and sorcery. His closest allies and family members abandoned him. It was bad, not only for him, but for everyone who believed in his message.
Fast-forward 1,437 years and the hatred and bigotry directed toward Muslims remains constant. One thing that is different, however, is the exposure to intolerance that our kids witness due to technology like social media and television.
We can’t escape it. From movies, television shows, the morning and evening news, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook — the hate is out and about. The struggle is real.

“Kids around the United States are frightened and their parents are in despair about how to protect them without scaring them more.”

According to the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a non-profit organization whose mission is to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims, 50 percent of Muslim students in California, alone, reported having been bullied on account of their faith.
“Bullying does lasting damage,” according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“Children who are bullied may suffer depression, anxiety, headaches, problems adjusting to school and long-term damage to self-esteem,” ING claims.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a recent report titled “Mislabeled: The Impact of School Bullying and Discrimination on California Muslim Students” addressing the experiences of Muslim youth with religious bullying and harassment in schools.
CAIR conducted surveys in 2012 and 2014 targeting youth from across California. The responses came from 621 students statewide attending public and non-Muslim private schools between the ages of 11 and 18.
“Ultimately 55 percent of the American Muslim students surveyed reported being subjected to some form of bullying based on their religious identity. This is twice as high as the national statistic of students reporting being bullied at school…The most common type of bullying American Muslim students faced was verbal at 52 percent…The percentage of females who reported experiencing discrimination by a teacher or administrator was slightly higher. Of the female respondents who wear the hijab, 29 percent reported being offensively touched by another student, and 27 percent reported being discriminated by their teacher,” the report stated.
These are scary statistics. Each day in the news there is another incident of hate toward Muslim children in schools, as was the case with Ahmed Mohammed in Irving, Texas.
Kids around the United States are frightened and their parents are in despair about how to protect them without scaring them more.
So what are we to do to support our children?
“Stand up for your faith,” Chicago Tribune contact reporter Marwa Eltagouri advises.
Recalling her experiences as a 9-year-old in the U.S. when 9/11 happened, Eltagouri says, “Muslim children shouldn’t have to pay the price of Islamophobic hate rhetoric, and shouldn’t have to keep their heads down or try and blend in. They should be ambassadors.”
“I ask you to stand up for your faith. Educate your non-Muslim friends on the intricacies of Islam and its emphasis on thankfulness, humbleness and protecting humanity. Prove those who denounce Islam wrong with your achievements and your generosity and the love you have for your country. If you don’t educate your peers amid Islamophobia, who will?” Eltagouri said.

“Facts and figures about Muslims and Islam — compiled with the assistance of diverse community groups and advocates — should also be featured in educational materials and resources, school curricula, popular Internet sites, television and films.”

Engy Abdelkader wrote in her article “Islamophobic Bullying in Our Schools” that preventative measures geared at faculty, students and administrators are necessary to stop bullying from occurring in the first instance.
“Indeed, evidence suggests that bullying behavior can be significantly reduced through prevention curricula,” she wrote.
Citing a report published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding titled “Global Battleground or School Playground: The Bullying of America’s Muslim Children,” Abdelkader says that pervasive efforts to educate American society about Islam and Muslims are needed.
“Cultural information should be provided to libraries, knowledge bases, teachers and school administrators. Such facts and figures about Muslims and Islam — compiled with the assistance of diverse community groups and advocates — should also be featured in educational materials and resources, school curricula, popular Internet sites, television and films,” Abdelkader said.
“Through understanding how Islamophobia functions in the school environment, educators and parents can be better prepared to recognize and prevent it,” the CAIR bullying report advises.
“Recommendations on how schools and parents can work to create safe and inclusive school environments include:

  • Schools should ensure that teachers receive training on how to prevent bullying and harassment in their classrooms.
  • Teachers should learn how to teach in diverse and multicultural classrooms and create inclusive environments by becoming familiar with the various religious identities of their students in addition to their racial, ethnic, sexual and gender identities.
  • Teachers should also be particularly sensitive to lesson plans about Islam, 9/11, and current global politics that may impact American Muslims — and refrain from making their American Muslim students feel as though they must answer for all Muslims.
  • Parents should look for signs of bullying and harassment in their children who may not want to raise awareness of the problems they are encountering.
  • Parents should know and immediately assert their children’s right to learn in a bias-free environment.”

I have a huge responsibility for Malik.
My role is to stand up to prejudice when I encounter it; meet it with love and truth; become the kind of person my child would want to emulate. 
Let us not be afraid to speak up for ourselves and for our children. Let us embody the Prophetic tradition. Let us teach them how to overcome adversity with grace and kindness — standing up to prejudice with love and compassion.

Image: Flickr