(Un) Safe Schools: The Muslim Student Experience

We are commonly told by our public schools that we should feel comfortable and safe in the spaces and environments dedicated to learning. However, as Muslims we have to question to what extent this is a reality the public education system.

Moreover, to what extent are we able to truly practice our religion in an accepting environment? The answer, unfortunately, is not what we would hope for. In truth, it often seems that there is a concerted effort to eradicate religion in its essence from the public schooling system. We are educated in an increasingly secular society, where the mere mention of any sort of religious belief appears to be absurd or an indicator of ‘non-critical thinking’. This begins from kindergarten and only seems to become more apparent as the years progress. So how are we supposed to be ourselves and feel comfortable when we cannot freely exercise our religious beliefs and practices in an environment we spend half our day in?

High schools are where you will likely find this challenge most pronounced. We have heard from sisters who have tried to start a Muslim Association Students club in their high school that they faced significant challenges in their effort. They were told a teacher sponsor would be required and that technically no teacher would support any religious club as it would represent a ‘bias’. Ultimately they were unsuccessful in their attempt to start an MSA.

Other sisters have shared with us the immense difficulty they sometimes face even wanting to leave class for a few minutes for prayer (salah). Some teachers grudgingly let the students leave, but later complained about “their constant need to leave class for prayer.” This is coupled with the inaction on the part of teachers when these same Muslims students were subjected to teasing and bullying by other students when they would leave to pray.

These are only a couple of issues Muslim students deal with in the public school system. It is becoming glaringly evident that there is a great deal of ignorance around our faith. This inevitably leads to Islamophobic comments from peers and a lack of support from teachers for the most part. However, this does not mean that nothing can be done about this. It is our duty to see these problems and collectively create solutions that will benefit the Muslim community at large.

The first step should be to report every form of Islamophobic act taken against you to a higher authority, like the administration or school board.

We are told in the Quran that “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” (67:2).

Perhaps, this is a trial from Allah (SWT) for many and a reminder that we need to work towards bettering the situation for the Ummah. So, in addition to reporting any problem we face, we should look towards bettering the overall awareness of our faith and respect of our beliefs within schools. There can and should be an effort to ensure Islam is represented and taught justly and properly in classrooms to tackle the rampant ignorance. Some public schools discuss religion as a major component of their social studies curriculum, while others focus on Islam as it is presented in popular media. Legitimate efforts at educating all students on Islam will undoubtedly increase understanding and awareness among teacher and students alike. These solutions could lead to clearing up the common, and countless, misconceptions about Islam.

So, instead of accepting the state of religious studies and Islamophobic incidents in public schools, we should work towards raising awareness. We should view this as an opportunity to push for a better future by putting forth the true information and message of Islam. Ideally, this would promote respect the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Ultimately, it is through the awareness of Islam itself, that we can work towards bettering the situation of the ummah for the sake of Allah (SWT).

Insha’Allah this will lay the foundation for Muslim students everywhere to be able to practice their deen in a truly safe environment that respects their values and beliefs.

Image Credit: Art by finieramos

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