By Warda A. Kalim, Safe Spaces Coordinator
Religious, social, and ethnic groups in the U.S. have long experienced prejudice and discrimination in the public. This problem especially occurs in our schools, as children experience bullying at some point during their childhood education. Whether physical, emotional or verbal, it is a common occurrence in most schools. According to the American Psychological Association, approximately, "40% to 80% of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers."
Experts say the effects of school bullying are severe. The challenges dealing with bullying often result into poorer academic performance, emotional or social distancing of students, and isolation. Mistreated young people may grow up with diminished self-confidence and a lost sense of belonging and helplessness. On the other side of the issue, youth who mistreat others frequently are more likely to become aggressive adults and to have criminal records in adulthood. Furthermore, students who witness bullying behavior are also affected.
In light of the tragic events in the Boston marathon bombing, the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan Chapter has received an increased number of complaints of American Muslims being bullied in schools. Political rhetoric and statements such as “kill all Muslims’ and ‘all Muslims are terrorist’, generalize and accuse entire communities or religious groups for an act and fail to differentiate the vast majority of law abiding and patriotic American Muslims. Due to this rhetoric, Muslim students are more likely targets to discrimination and bullying in schools. American Muslim students are paying the price of the senseless killing that took place in Boston. This rhetoric often further perpetuates and fuels bullying in schools.
In recent years, Muslim communities throughout the U.S. have faced a disturbing wave of prejudice and hostility. Muslim students have reported facing daily challenges in trying to make their religious practices compatible with their school life. Problems include feeling judged by peers, being compared with negative media stereotypes and experiencing discomfort while observing practices that were visible or public in nature.
In order to counter these trends, it is important to foster an environment of inclusion within a school and classroom. Unfortunately, bullying can also be perpetrated by teachers and the school system. Since there is an inherent power difference in the larger system that can easily lead to subtle yet effective humiliation, or rejection.
After collective tragedy of 9/11 the American Muslim community was universally outraged and also worried about backlash. Hence, the national community actively engaged and involved themselves from Washington to local soup kitchens, and providing several outreach and interfaith programs to build bridges with the community at large. Unfortunately, due to the tragic events of the Boston bombing many are worried that all those years of efforts and outreach will now be so easily undone.
The best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. To tackle these issues, CAIR-MI has the Safe Spaces School project, an initiative which creates an anti-bullying environment in schools. CAIR-MI has teamed up with a number of faith and minority groups to tackle discrimination and take a stand against bullying by actively offering sensitivity training to teachers and students which discusses and addresses bullying and discrimination in affected schools. Anti-bullying programs are designed to teach students cooperation, as well as training in peer support. It is important for everyone in the community to work together to send a unified message against bullying.
Islam like other religions preaches moderation and balance in every aspect of life, including religiosity. Like other religions or moral codes, the life of a human is extremely sacred, meaning that the senseless killing of innocent people is unequivocally forbidden. Despite this, unfortunately a very small minority commit atrocious acts.
Terrorism has no nationality and affects all humans as does bullying. In times like this it is more important than ever to unite as a national community, rather than let individual acts divide whole communities. We must stand united in condemning bigotry, discrimination and bullying by praying for peace, praying for an end to hate and a society for our children to grow up where they are not paying for the heinous and senseless acts committed by others.