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Is Public Education Promoting Islam or Islamophobia Redux

December 18, 2015

Hannah Ingber’s article in today’s NYTimes saddened me for its premise and for its findings. Titled “Muslim Parents on How They Talk to Their Children About Hatred and Extremism”, Ingber’s article was framed as follows:

A wave of recent attacks by extremists acting in the name of Islam — including in San Bernardino, Calif., this month — has contributed to a rise in anti-Muslim speech in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. We asked our readers who are Muslim how they talk to their children about these difficult times.

The balance of the article was excerpted quotes from the 200+ parents who replied… and the parents’ responses are uplifting: each respondent described the efforts they are making to instill pride and resilience in their children. But the responses all imply that Muslim children feel unwelcome in most of our public schools and experience outright hostility in their daily lives. Several of them indicate the need for their children to bend over backwards to show their classmates that Islam is not a terroristic religion. This is shameful. Here are some of the responses that resonated with me:

A few weeks ago, my son’s preschool asked parents to come in and share a holiday tradition with the class. Since my son is the only Muslim in his class, I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the young children to Islam and the Islamic holidays of Eid. Then I started reading Facebook posts of friends and acquaintances describing verbal and physical attacks on Muslims in schools, parking lots, and buses.

I began to think: “Do I want my son’s peers and teachers to know that he is Muslim? Will his Christian preschool treat him differently if he identifies as Muslim?” I hated myself for even asking these questions because I have never been one to deny or hide my identity.

I decided to do a presentation for my son’s class on Islam and the Islamic holidays. Not that explaining Islam to a room full of 2-year-olds will drastically win over hearts and minds, but education is one of the best tools we as Muslims have to counter the ignorami who malign our faith. – Aiza Siddiqi in Baltimore

I tell them to be patient when they get bullied every day because of their identity at school, and when their teachers tell them to “deal with it.” – Ahmed Kozanoglu in East Troy

I remind my two eldest that I was born and raised in America and that we have nothing to fear. I remind them to be good, smile and make lots of friends. Their friends will always know what a good person you are.

I also tell them that everyone struggles for one thing or another and I give them examples of our own struggles. I tell them we need to learn how to overcome our struggles or try to wait them out. – “NS” in Lake Oswego, Ore.

I want them to know that being Muslim is not a crime.

I try to be a strong Muslim woman with good manners; I let them know that I am not afraid to wear my hijab out and that they should be proud of being both American and Muslim. – Mehnaz Mahmood in McKinney, Tex.

I ask him every day to report to me if anything hurtful was said to him or if any adult made him uncomfortable. I tell him to be ready to fight back if someone physically assaults him.

I tell him that some people may blame us for things that other people who claim to be Muslim do. I tell him people are scared and might do things that are wrong, out of fear. I tell him there is nothing wrong with being Muslim. – Aden Munassar in the Bronx.

I always tell my kids to not take the news right from the mainstream media, but rather to do their own research and try to find the facts from multiple sources.

We all get offended when the criminals happen to be Muslims and the media calls them terrorists, but no one else is called that name no matter what religion or ethnicity. This makes my children always ask the question why only Muslims are called terrorists and not the other mass shooters or criminals. It is not easy to answer such a question! – Ossama Elawad in Connecticut.

A parent afraid that her 2 year old will be the subject of taunting; a parent whose child is told to “deal with it” when he is ridiculed by classmates; a parent who advises their child to “wait out” struggles they are facing now; a parent who wants his child to “fight back” if he is assaulted for being a Muslim; a parent who assures his child that “there is nothing wrong with being Muslim“. A parent who cannot explain “…why only Muslims are called terrorists and not the other mass shooters or criminals.”

While talk about the need to ferret out “homegrown terrorists” we are not providing support to the Muslim parents who are struggling to retain their children’s faith in our country and in our schools. When Presidential candidates insist that Islam is a violent religion at its core and insinuates that we need to fight back against Muslims, when the news outlets amplify this message with their nightly reports of terrorism and Middle East conflicts, public schools need to double down on the teaching of tolerance and be vigilant to any signs of hostility toward children based on their religion, race, or creed.

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