Recent events provide renewed opportunities to ensure the safety of American Muslim youth
There are several actions adults can take to help Muslim young people feel safe, valued and affirmed
As people across the United States continue to respond to the executive order on immigration signed by President Trump on January 27, it’s important to keep in mind ways that these reactions may affect the safety and well-being of Muslim youth across the country. There are about 3.3 million Muslims (people who follow the religion of Islam) living in the United States, including a large Muslim population in southeast Michigan. Some American Muslim adults and young people are native-born, while others are immigrants to the United States. Muslims are very diverse in terms of race, socioeconomic status, and national or ethnic origin, and many have family roots in the countries affected by the executive order (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen).
Many young people have reported that they’ve been targets of bullying, bias and harassment because of their Muslim identity. For example, in a survey of Muslim students aged 11 to 18 in California, 55 percent reported being subjected to some form of biased-based bullying related to their religious identity – a rate that is twice as high as national statistics for students who report being targets of bullying at school. Muslim students have reported being spit on, being taunted as a terrorist or unpatriotic, or having rumors spread about them and their families related to terrorist activities. Some girls who wear a hijab, the head covering that is worn by some Muslim girls and women, report that they’ve had other students pull off their hijab or tease them as being uneducated or oppressed for wearing it.
In addition, research shared during a 2016 webinar provided by the U.S. Departments of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention showed that Muslim students have reported that teachers and other adults within school settings have made offensive comments related to their religion or that adults have allowed other students to make offensive comments. Some Muslim students have reported feeling marginalized during class discussions on topics such as Islam, the Middle East or terrorism, adding that they’re often put into the uncomfortable position of having to defend their beliefs or to correct misconceptions that may be shared by both adults and other young people.
Helping to ensure that all young people – including Muslim youth – feel safe, valued and affirmed at school and in other settings is a fundamental responsibility of adults. If you’re a Muslim parent, experts stress the importance of looking for signs that your children may be experiencing bullying and harassment, as well as knowing how to assert young people’s rights to learn in a bias-free setting. You can learn more about laws that protect children’s civil rights – including Title IV rights related to national origin – by contacting your child’s school or by exploring the resources of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. If you’re a non-Muslim adult, you can commit to taking action as an ally to help prevent these hurtful behaviors. This includes being willing to examine your own potential biases, as well as being willing to recognize and challenge the hurtful language and behaviors of others within schools, youth groups and family settings. You may also want to explore resources that can help deepen your understanding about the lives of American Muslims, such as the Islamic Networks Group nonprofit organization focused on countering prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions.
Adults who work within school settings may also be interested in the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service publication titled Twenty Plus Things Schools Can do to Respond to or Prevent Hate Incidents Against Arab-Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs. Those who work in youth settings may also be interested in resources provided by Michigan State University Extension related to issues of bullying, bias and harassment in the lives of young people. Among these is a curriculum titled Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, which is designed to help adults and young people work in partnership to create positive relationships and inclusive settings.