Bullied For Its Faith, Muslim Family Fights Back Through Education

It started with a sign pinned to Sana Afzal’s backpack after the election in 2016. “I like Trump, you’re fired.”

At the 16-year-old’s new high school in Gilroy, Calif., just outside San Jose, kids whispered in her Spanish class: “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great” in Arabic — in a derogatory way.

And then there was the English class assignment involving a Fox News opinion piece that linked Islam, her religion as a whole to a horrific stoning in Afghanistan. The article was accompanied by a picture of a young woman in a headscarf — a lot like the one that Sana chooses to wear as a Muslim.

“One guy … like saw the picture and saw me and was like ‘it’s the same thing,’ ” she said.

He was linking her to this terrible act in a country she had never been to and knew little about.

“It was bad, horrible,” she said. As she retells the story months later, she trails off and starts to cry.

Going from middle school to high school is always hard, figuring out who to sit with, making friends, etc. But doing it as a Muslim kid of color who covers her hair is even harder.

Teaching tolerance

More than 42 percent of Muslims in the U.S. report bullying among their school-age kids, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank that researches issues that affect American Muslims. And in California, it’s more than half, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And with the rising anti-Muslim hostility, the Islamic Networks Group, an advocacy organization that counters religious bigotry with education, says bullying is becoming almost the norm for Muslim kids.

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