Although faith can bring people together, it is also the one of the primary reasons for violent conflict throughout human history. Despite the fact that the United States was founded on the principle that all should be free to practice their religious beliefs, people who are non-Christian in the United States have often suffered discrimination, harassment, and assault. This situation worsened after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as many in the nation began to associate Muslim people with terrorism. In the United Kingdom, Muslims suffered increased harassment after a series of terrorist bombings in London in 2005. Throughout both countries, Muslim people–or, in some cases, those who appeared to be Muslim (for instance, men with long beards, people with Arabic last names)–endured verbal and even physical harassment. Many have referred to this fear of Muslims as Islamophobia.
This harassment has also extended to Muslim students at schools and on college campuses. In England, students have reported being harassed and being forced to pray outside on the playground because they were denied access to a room in which to meet, despite a legal obligation schools have to allow for the observance of all religious practices. Most U.K. students report that such bullying and abuse goes unpunished.
France bans Muslim students from wearing head scarves–hijabs–in public schools. Students who wore the hijab were often tormented, yet critics contend a ban is not the best way to resolve bias or to create unity. In September 2010, the French Senate approved a ban on wearing the facial veil–the burqa–in public spaces.
In February 2010, an Arab American Muslim student in the eighth grade at Beckendorff Junior High School in Katy, Texas, was violently assaulted after enduring months of racial and ethnic slurs. His jaw was broken in two places. The boy’s family reported that the bullies called their son a terrorist and told him to “go home.” Although the school district claimed the victim never reported the bullying, the boy told the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that he had reported the bullying at least three times to school authorities.
In October 2010, four teenagers from Staten Island, New York, were charged with hate crime offenses for bullying a Muslim classmate in the previous school year. The bullies frequently called the Muslim boy a “terrorist,” spit in his face, and punched him in the groin.
In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Education began an investigation into anti-Muslim harassment in the Minnesota Public Schools in Owatonna and St. Cloud. The investigation into possible civil rights violations was prompted by allegations that students and teachers had harassed Muslim students. Students reportedly shoved bacon into the face of a Muslim student, and a teacher was said to have repeatedly given students a can of air freshener spray and asked them to spray it when Muslim students walked into the classroom. Racial slurs and disparaging comments about Islam were alleged to have been made by students as well as teachers.
In late October 2010, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan cautioned that certain types of bullying–those related to sexual orientation and religion–may violate federal civil rights laws. He implored schools to take these matters seriously and to proactively address bullying.
Recognizing that bullying based on religion worsened during the Gulf War in 1991, the National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom provided teachers with a booklet in 2003 that demonstrated how to teach about all sides of the war in Iraq and to recognize signs of bullying. CAIR has also developed An Educator’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices (available at http://sun.cair.com/Portals/0/pdf/education_guide.pdf) to help educators become more sensitive to the needs of their Muslim students.
Campuses also saw an increase in anti-Muslim speech and harassment of Muslim students after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. A series of incidents were reported at Yale University directly following the invasion. “Muslim students have felt physical dangers in everyday situations … [been] labeled unpatriotic and therefore terrorists … [and been] ostracized based on their beliefs,” says Sumeyya Ashraf, president of Yale’s Muslim Student Association (Chitty, n.d., para 9). At the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center in 2003, Muslim prayer rugs in the chapel, which is nondenominational, were found soaked in pig’s blood.
Students are not the only targets of anti-Muslim sentiment. Cases of discrimination against Muslim employees are being investigated at colleges across the United States. CAIR civil rights consultant Hassan Mirza says a Muslim at an Oklahoma university was repeatedly harassed by coworkers, who hung pictures depicting him as a terrorist and labeling him an ”al-Qaeda operative.” A Muslim woman claims she was fired from her job at a Maryland university for having a copy of the Koran on her computer.
- CAIR: Injured Texas Muslim student says he did report bullying. (n.d.). PR Newswire. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases-test/cair-injured-texas-muslim-student-says-he-did-report-bullying-83824427.html
- Chitty, G. (2003, May 9). Anti-Muslim attacks penetrate U.S “hallowed halls of Ivy.” IPS. Retrieved from http://www.ipsnews.net/2003/05/iraq-anti-muslim-attacks-penetrate-us-hallowed-halls-of-ivy/
- French burqa ban clears last legal obstacle. (2010, October 7). CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/10/07/france.burqa.ban/index.html
- Samuels, C. (2010, October 27). Bullying may violate civil rights, Duncan warns schools. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/10/27/10bully.h30.html
- Schools warned about anti-Islamic bullying. (2003, March 12). BBC News Roundup. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/uk/newsid_2842000/2842729.stm
- Smolowe, J. (2010, October 18). I was bullied. People, 66-69.
- Staten Island teens charged with anti-Muslim crime. (2010, October 11). New York Post. Retrieved from http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/staten_island/staten_island_teens_charged_with_SrukrkbXLjSH4cUwCzuYeK
- Tan, S. (2006, November 24). Since 9/11, students bullied for being Muslim in schools. The Muslim News. Retrieved from http://archive.muslimnews.co.uk/paper/index.php?article=2717