Survey: Half of Muslim students in California report bullying

Oct 31, 2015 by

Jill Tucker – More than half of the state’s Muslim students have experienced religion-based bullying, a rate double that of their non-Muslim peers nationally, according to a survey released Friday by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Across California, less than 10 percent of middle school and high school students overall reported harassment at school based on their religion, according to state data.

The new report indicates that children across the state are still feeling the side effects of the 9/11 attacks, at a time when Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment has become almost normalized in some quarters — used to garner votes in presidential campaigns or to challenge a creative Muslim boy who brought a homemade clock to a Texas classroom.

According to the report, not only were 52 percent of Muslim students insulted or abused because of their religion, one in five experienced such discrimination by their teachers or administrators. Boys were more likely to report being bullied, but of the girls who wear a traditional Muslim head scarf or hijab, 27 percent said they were discriminated against by a teacher or administrator.

One teacher, for example, told a student he or she wasn’t American enough to understand a classroom topic. Another student said that, “When I wear my hijab in schools sometimes people ask me if I’m related to Osama bin Laden.”

“Today, anti-Muslim rhetoric has become so acceptable that parents and students feel that it is a normal part of being a Muslim in America,” said Fatima Dadabhoy, a senior civil rights attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles. “However, this normalization causes people to forget the very real consequences that bullying and discrimination can have.”

Education is a big part of the answer in reducing this and all forms of bullying, according to the report’s recommendations, which include training teachers on leading diverse and multicultural classrooms and ensuring classroom materials, including textbooks, movies and projects are “current and free of Islamophobic bias.”

The nonprofit organization also offers school-based training and materials to help schools navigate issues related to Islam.

Despite the frequency of bullying faced by Muslim students, the report released Friday found 83 percent of those surveyed felt safe at school. Still, only a third of students said teachers and administrators were responsive to their religious needs, including time for prayer, excused absences for religious holidays like Eid or an alternative to the uniforms provided for physical education.

The researchers surveyed 621 students between the ages of 11 and 18 last year.

San Francisco student Mai Sinada, 16, is among those who have experienced bullying or verbal harassment based on her religion. She vividly remembers the middle school classmate who told her, “Shut up, terrorist.”

“You kind of get used to it and it doesn’t hurt you anymore,” said Mai, now a junior at Wallenberg High School.

Mai is one of those students who feels safe, with bullying far more rare in high school. Still, she is combatting any bullying and negative stereotypes with a simple recipe: success.

She is class president and has big plans for college and a career in science or technology, though she also feels the weight of responsibility.

“I feel that being a minority is like walking on a tight rope — one small thing can be held against you and you can figuratively fall off,” she said. “I want to become an inspiration to Muslim girls around the world. I want them to feel they’re supported and comfortable and safe in their surroundings.”

Source: Survey: Half of Muslim students in California report bullying – SFGate

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