Parents often worry mostly about their children’s safety on their way to and from school. What is coming to surface is a realisation that Muslim parents should sadly be just as cautious for their children’s mental, emotional and even physical safety in schools.
A new study carried out on Muslim school children in Edinburgh revealed the high levels of verbal and physical abuse being hurled at them inside their own schools, as well as the high levels of anxieties and fear of being abused and judged in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.
Samena Dean decided to investigate the issue of anti-Muslim prejudice against Muslim school children in Edinburgh after noticing its dreadful impacts on her own daughter and her daughter’s friends. Hoping her daughter’s experiences were not common, she questioned 100 Muslim primary and secondary school children whom she reached through Madrassahs and youth clubs. 66 of the students came from 18 high schools and the remaining 34 came from 22 different primary schools.
The findings revealed that 53% of primary school children questioned had encountered a verbal form of anti-Muslim prejudice and 29% had personally been victims of it. 26% had encountered physical abuse motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice and 14% they were themselves victims of this physical abuse.
As for secondary school children, 55% of those questioned had encountered a verbal form of anti-Muslim prejudice and 35% suffered it personally. 15% they encountered physical abuse motivated by anti-Muslims prejudice and 6% were themselves victims of this abuse.
Verbal anti-Muslim prejudice included being called a “terrorist”, “bomber”, “ISIS”, “al Qaeda”, making fun of God, making fun of Allah, being asked if they had a gun under their scarf. And examples of anti-Muslim physical prejudice included being punched, kicked, pushed and having their hijabs pulled off.
Asked whether they would tell a teacher after being abused, 31% said ‘yes’ and a staggering 67% said ‘no’; some explaining that they did not feel they could ‘trust’ teachers, they feared they may be racist, that they won’t understand or take their complaints seriously.
Only 31% of those who complained said the outcome was positive and 67% said the outcome was negative; with several saying that the teacher did nothing about the problem.
In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, 46% of the children questioned said they felt worried, 21% felt scared of going to school and 8% missed school as a result.
65% also expressed negativity towards the way ‘terrorism’ was discussed in their classes and described feeling ‘scared’, ‘worried’ and ‘angry’ as a result. One student said: ‘everyone relates Islam to bad things like terrorism and killing’.
These findings may barely be scratching the surface on anti-Muslim prejudice against school children. Hence, further research of this nature should be carried out on a larger scale.
Nevertheless, the findings raise a number of red flags about anti-Muslim prejudice on Muslim school children. Firstly, being a form of bullying, these attacks cause depression, anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, isolation, loss of interest in activities of interest and decreased academic achievement.
Secondly, anti-Muslim hatred is dangerous because it is ideologically motivated. A bully who bullies out of ideological conviction (and belief that Muslims or Islam advocate terrorism) are likely to be more persistent and lacking in remorse than bullies who know that bullying is wrong.
Anti-Muslim hatred can only be confronted by countering those ideologies through education which should be embedded in school curriculum and included in anti-bullying policies.
School leaders and teachers should take disclosures seriously and reassure Muslim students that they will be listened to and that their complaints will be dealt with fairly and should be careful not to link terrorism to Islam and Muslims and avoid terms such as ‘Islamism’, ‘Islamic terrorism’.
Samena Dean (2017) Islamophobia in Edinburgh Schools Scotland Against Criminalised Communities, Edinburgh