Bullying of Muslim students in the Bay Area is a growing concern, a report published last month by the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) revealed. The survey showed evidence that Muslim students in California as a whole are facing religious-inspired bullying at school, creating fear among students that to be open about their Islamic faith will lead to hate speech and stigmatization.
For Hassan, an 11th grade San Francisco student at a public high school, he believes that a lot of the aggression facing Muslim students is a product of ongoing angst towards Islam and Muslims in the mainstream media.
"I get to school some days and many of my classmates will say things in passing, thinking they are funny, about this bomb or a bomb belt or even still box cutters and terrorism," he began. "It is hard to deal with every day and even though I haven't been attacked violently, the language is really hurtful and my friends and I are struggling mentally and emotionally."
Of the 5o percent who reported social bullying, along the lines of name-calling and other remarks, it was "stuff you would expect," said report author Fatima Dadabhoy, a staff attorney and civil rights manager and staff attorney with CAIR in Anaheim.
Other students also told Beyond Chron that they are facing language that if directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students there would be immediate grounds for action, but because they are Muslim, schools' administration appears uneasy to intervene.
“I feel that because we are Muslim kids and the tension that Islam has in the country right now that we are not being taken seriously when we ever do speak out against this problem,” said Tarek, an 11th grader and athlete in Oakland.
He told Beyond Chron that on the court, during practice and games, a lot of the “trash talking” is related to his name and him being an Arab. Tarek said that he has often been called a terrorist by opposing teams on the basketball court and has heard people call his mother a “terrorist whore” who “hates America.”
“It is hard to really get into the mix with all my team because of the issues that are political in this country. Sometimes I don’t know what to do about it, but my family and friends have been supportive and I understand that this is just how young kids deal with things. It doesn’t make it right, but it is something I think about and deal with every single day,” he added.
One local school administrator told Beyond Chron that they are investigating the instances of bullying "at all times" and claimed that whether a student was facing bullying for being LGBT or Muslim would be "taken seriously."
Although the official asked not to be named, he did argue that across the city, teachers are being educated on ways to identify bullying and to take immediate action to help spur the apparent growth.
"We are working with CAIR and other organizations to better identify the problem and we are very serious about making sure that our schools are learning places for students and for students to be safe," the official said.
For its part, CAIR said the need to ensure all students receive equal treatment is paramount to ending bullying of all kinds, including against Muslim students.
"Being called 'terrorist' or 'Bin laden' is still a reality for many American Muslim students," said CAIR-LA Civil Rights Manager Fatima Dadabhoy. "Throughout the course of this study, we were alarmed to find that many Muslim students didn't even deem this as a form of bullying. Through this report, we hope to show that a decision to dismiss mistreatment as a natural consequence of being Muslim in America, or simply part of growing up, is unacceptable and normalizes a toxic school environment."