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Harassed at School for Being Muslim: What to Do?

20 January, 2022
Q My 12-year-old son was asked to do a report on someone who has or had impacted history. He chose to do his report on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He spent almost three weeks readying encyclopedias, hadiths, translations of the Quran, and books from the local mosque. When he turned in his report I received a phone call from the school saying he had the option of being suspended from school for the remaining 15 days left or he could accept the corporal punishment. When my son was in the first grade, he was told to draw a picture and put the word "God" in it. He drew a picture of a Palestinian flag and wrote "God Bless Palestine." He was given an F and three days' suspension. Then again in the fifth grade, in his history class he was punished because when he was stating the countries that they were learning he wrote "Palestine" instead of Israel, and he received another F for that. When he went into the fifth grade, Giddeons came to the school and handed him a Bible and he said, "No, thank you. I am a Muslim," and the gentleman said, "You must take this, it's a gift from us to you." I complained to the school superintendent and was given a written letter of apology then for making him take the Bible. This is the kind of harassment we go through living in a Christian community of 4,500 people and we — my family — are the only Muslims here. All of my children have suffered in this small town, in some way or another. My 2-year-old twins have been called sandni**** and my other children have been called terrorists. I would like my son's story to get around, because they never should have told him he could do the report on Prophet Muhammad and then punish him for it. Any suggestions on how we can help this little 12-year-old for sticking up for his beliefs would be greatly appreciated.


Short Answer: First, focus on preparing your children and helping them deal with their daily reality. Then, consider having a meeting with the principal and your childrens’ teachers to discuss your concerns, making sure you earn their respect. Remember: your childrens’ educators may never meet another Muslim family, so you are ambassadors for Islam and for Muslims, so do your best to be an example for them.

Salam Dear Sheila,

Thank you for telling us about the problems your children are facing in school and for your question about how you might overcome these problems.

We all want the best for our own children, don’t we?

And, as parents, we stick up for them through thick and thin when they face difficulties at school or anywhere.

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It is good that you are asking advice from someone not directly involved in the situation, so that we can answer it at a step removed from the situation itself and apply any lessons we might take from this situation to all Muslims, whether at school or not.

Let us hope, though, that the situation has not got out of control and that a few cautious steps might be able to remedy things.

Legal Steps

First of all, if the situation is exactly as you describe it, there are legal steps that you could take to ensure that your children are enjoying their full rights in school.

An attorney could advise you about where you stand.

Equality of opportunity and freedom from prejudice or discrimination based on religion are enshrined in the basic legal codes of many countries.

If there really is a case for such action, you should take proper legal advice about it. The mention of such legal action often has a very immediate effect.

Advice From a Teacher

Before going down that road, though, I just want to share my own experience.

I have been a teacher for many years and have a lot of experience of both students and teachers.

Experience has taught me that parents always see the situation from their child’s point of view.

Experience has also taught me that teachers, on the whole, are a fairly balanced and caring group, and very seldom act in a discriminatory way towards pupils.

My first word of caution, then, is to look at the situation with a lot of common sense and try to see it from all points of view.

Helping Your Child Respond

It is very important to remember that a child does not have the experience to deal with the subtleties of adults, so when placed in an awkward situation, your son is responding as a child would respond.

You should advise him to stay calm whenever there is a problem and that you will sort it out.

At twelve years old, he cannot be expected to sort these problems out himself.

Once he knows that you will always be there to support him at school, he can calm down a little.

Tell him to be as good a Muslim as he can, polite and courteous to others, and that you will deal with the rest.

A Time to Build Bridges

There is a lot of bridge-building to be done here.

The final outcome will be that your son is not marked out for special treatment because he is Muslim, and the school will come to see that Islam is not a threat.

Even if you have done so already, you should make an appointment to speak with the school principal to express your concerns over what seems to be happening.

Very often, misunderstandings can be sorted out by talking about them.

Sometimes, not everyone knows there is a problem until it is pointed out to them.

Explain to the principal that you respect the values of the other pupils and teachers and that you do not want to change their views at all, but that you do not want your son to be treated unfairly.

Make it clear that you are not looking for a fight, but that you simply want to get on well with the school’s administration in a way that will help your son to integrate fully into the life of the school without compromising anything he believes as a Muslim.

It is very important to be quite calm at these meetings.

Islam is not looking for anyone’s approval, so you shouldn’t feel that you are looking for the school to approve what you or your son believes.

Muslims, though, do want to engage in a very positive way with all people, whether they are Muslim or not.

It is a difficult job for you, but you must show that Muslims are not a cause of trouble.

Even in the way you approach and speak to the school authorities, you must show that Islam is dignified and strong.

Earning Respect First

You must also remember, though, that no one owes Islam any favors either.

You are going to have to earn the respect of the teachers for what you believe.

They are not going to be very sympathetic to something they believe to be violent and uncompromising, because of what they have seen on TV.

The school authorities must be brought round slowly to see that Islam is worthy of great respect.

You might find some very good information about Islam to give to the schoolteachers. It could be that they just know nothing about Islam and Muslims.

Try to find ways, too, of thanking teaching staff for the good things they are doing.

You’re An Example For Others

If it is a very small town where you live, having a Muslim pupil in the school must seem rather strange to them, perhaps even alien to everything they are used to.

Whilst protecting the rights of your son to be treated fairly at all times, you could use this very opportunity to bring the message of Islam to this small community.

If the only image they have about Islam is a negative one, their actions can be understood, although not excused, in the light of this.

Muslims are strong. Their strength comes from Allah.

Whilst you should not have to put up with any kind of discrimination in your son’s place of education, it could be that this whole situation is a way for you to speak to others about Islam.

If, as you say, you are the only Muslims in the area, you have a great responsibility to be ambassadors for Islam.

By standing firm, you can win the respect of others.

By giving good example of what it means to be Muslim, you might even be the ones who draw others to the sweet and gentle message of Islam.

Hopefully, this test of your faithfulness to Allah may be the thing that brings Islam to your town.

I hope this answers your question. Please stay in touch.


(From Ask About Islam’s archives)

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About Idris Tawfiq
Idris Tawfiq was a British writer, public speaker and consultant.He became a Muslim around 15 years ago.For many years, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom.Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest.He passed away in peace in the UK in February 2016 after a period of illness.May Allah (SWT) have mercy on him, and accept his good deeds. Ameen.