Muslims In Public Schools: Is There Harassment?

In the name of God, compassionate & merciful بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ | Peace be with you السلام عليكم

From Islamic Horizons Magazine | By Zahra Cheema

Being Muslim In Public Schools


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Freelance writer and contributor of Islamic Horizons Magazine (Islamic Society of North America) Zahra Cheema's column featured in the March/April issue focusing on Muslim interactions in American schools. Bullying is commonplace in high schools, it is in the nature of young adults to question or poke attention at someone different, the 'other'. For young Muslims harassment for their beliefs or appearance can create extra tension and pull at the edges of their developing identity. Zahra Cheema asked several students from Maryland, USA, whether their experiences as Muslims in public schools were any different. This is what they said:

"In class when people are joking around, sometimes they'll say, 'you're a Muslim, [or] you're a terrorist.' They don't really mean it, it's kind of a joke anyway," said Jana Hilmi, a seventh-grader at Southampton Middle School in Maryland. Jana said that these comments are never directed at her, but are ones she overhears used by some students who are not Muslim, to tease each other.

"Some people are like, 'I don't mean to be rude by asking'. And I'm like, 'I don't care if you are, you can ask, it's better than [to] just make up your own thing about it'," said Nimra Nadeem, an eighth-grader at Edgewood Middle school in Maryland. Nadeem, the sole hijab-wearing student in her school that she knows of, said that classmates often ask her questions about her hijab; questions which she is happy to answer as long as they are asked.

"Mostly if someone asks if I'm Muslim, which is rarely, they're just like 'oh my gosh, I never knew that' like as if it's from a different planet," said Nadyah Hilmi, an eighthgrader. Nadyah said that many students in her school lack awareness not only of Islam, but other religions and cultures as well. She said that besides herself and her sister, she only knows of a few other Muslims in her school; a very different environment from her third to sixh grade classrooms in Sri Lanka.

"I know if you ask someone in my class what a Muslim is, they'll say Azraf," said Azraf Ullah, a junior and Muslim Student Association (MSA) member at Herndon High School in Virginia. Ullah said that the Muslim students are a well-respected group with a strong presence at his high school.

"Well the only thing I can really do about it is just be a good person." Said Naveed Abdulrahman after explaining that a common misperception people have of Muslims is that they are terrorists. Naveed, a sophomore at Aberdeen High School in Maryland, said that he is well-liked by his peers and that his religion should not, and does not, negatively affect people's views of him.

"Everything kind of just depends on yourself at one point. If you are strong about who you are, if you know what your identity is, then I don't think you ever came across a problem," said Aqsa Zubair a junior and president of the MSA at Stone Bridge High School in Virginia. Zubair said she faced a difficult time in middle school when she started wearing hijab and felt that former friends and classmates were teasing her in indirect ways. She now looks back on that experience as the beginning stages of her identity formation as an American Muslim and said that it helped to make a stronger person and stronger Muslim.

When asked what advice he would give a student who is being bullied or harasses for being Muslim, Nishad Abdrulrahmad said, "Tell someone about it and don't let it get to your head because they're just trying to look smart in front of their friends". Nishad, like his brother Naveed, said he has never faced bullying himself for being Muslim at Aberdeen High School in Maryland.

~ Good Muslim news, surely.

Zahra Cheema, a freelance writer, resides in Maryland.

Read and download the March/April issue of 


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