FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – The Muslim-American community continues facing hate in California classrooms, according to the 2021 bullying report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The biennial study evaluates the current school climate for California Muslim students between the ages of 11 and 18.
“Their identity is being used against them and it’s really disheartening,” said Zena Chafi, Fresno State Muslim Student Association President.
CAIR-CA’s 2021 report is the result of a survey distributed between January 2021 to August 2021 asking Muslim students statewide about their experiences with bullying and Islamophobia from August 2018 to August 2021. Around 700 students participated in the survey, including 34 from Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties. Nearly 50% reported being bullied, compared to 40% in 2019. More than half said they felt unsafe.
“There’s times where parents are making calls to their school over and over and over, and they’re never heard,” said Reza Nekumanesh, executive director at the Islamic Cultural Center in Fresno.
Nekumanesh said he’s worked with Valley school districts to address the problem, including an instance where a local school allegedly held a test with Islamophobic questions.
“There was a question, for example, about the hijab, about the covering that Muslim women wear, and it had some demeaning reasons as to why a Muslim might wear it,” he shared. “When talking about violence committed by folks, it used Islam as a basis for the possibility of the violence.”
According to the 2021 and 2019 surveys, Muslim students in California were bullied at more than twice the reported national average of 20%.
“A six-year-old female public school student from Orange County reported that her teacher herself had attacked her in front of her class, saying things like ‘terrorist’ and ‘you don’t belong here,'” said CAIR-CA civil rights managing attorney Amir Shabaik.
The study showed Islamophobia in the classroom decreased during the pandemic, though advocates say it may have been replaced by online bullying.
“When you’re hiding behind a screen, it’s really, really easy to attack another person online,” said Chafi, adding that school districts need to be more proactive.
“More ethnic studies, do anti-Islamophobic trainings, teach students, professors and teachers what it means to be anti-racist,” she said.
“It takes the schools inviting us in, allowing us to educate at all levels so that way, people can walk away with a greater understanding,” said Nekumanesh.