Islamophobia in The United States Public School Systems
By Nadeen Elkordy
Islamophobia has been manifested through the history of the United States which has had a direct impact on the widespread normalization of Anti-Muslim Racism in Public-School
Systems in the United States. Islamophobia is the fear and hatred of Muslims, which often leads to prejudice and discrimination towards Muslims from public and political powers. “It is an ideological construct produced and reproduced at the intersection of imperial ideology, political expediency, and the exploitation of nationalist, racial, and religious insecurities” (Mir). Despite the rise of outwardly Islamophobic individuals and systems, Islamophobia is not a recent issue. Structural Islamophobia dates to the 18 th century and has only continued to increase through politics, society, and major events, making innocent Muslim individuals the primary target of anger and racism in the U.S. The schooling system in the United States deprives Muslim and non-Muslim students from the necessary means and resources they need in order to flourish in a just and equal environment. Moreover, it is an especially crucial time during these young students lives where necessary, life-long skills and understandings of other individuals and world around them are often developed. The absence of teaching Islamic material and the strong presence of Islamophobia, through racialization and stereotypes of Muslims, in Public-School Systems in the United States is detrimental to young non-Muslim and Muslim students, as it impacts their academia, mental health, and future.
The Education System in The United States is deeply flawed as it discludes or misrepresents Islamic history and fails to address the current political and social state of Islam in America. This minimizes non-Muslim students’ opportunity to learn and understand Muslims, Islam, and Islamophobia. The lack of Muslim representation in school curriculum negatively impacts non-Muslims students. After the event of 9/11 publicity spread through media and Muslims became the target group receiving hate by individuals, groups, and government. For
many students “who have no personal experience knowing Muslims as human beings, the
overwhelmingly negative images of Islam circulated in the popular media amount to prejudice” (Ernst). Due to racial biases and stereotypes the media wrongfully portrays Muslims as being individuals to fear, terrorists, and extremists. If Islam is not incorporated in Public-School systems students will believe the wrong information they see in the media and engage in this institutionalized racism towards Muslims. Academic silence will therefore lead to bigotry and prejudice from uneducated students. When Islam is discussed in schools it is strictly in the context of 9/11, which condenses Muslim vibrant history into one terrorist attack anchored by one Muslim individual. 9//11 is not an accurate representation of Muslims as a whole and inaccurately leaves students believing that all Muslims are terrorists. Teachers must facilitate awareness and understanding of Islam through educating students about the long history behind why Muslims are viewed as Terrorists in America. This is necessary in order to break down Islamophobic biases, minimize hate, racism, and discrimination, as these ideas will impact the way these non-Muslim students will interact with Muslims in the future, and in their schools.
Certainly, the presence of Islamophobia in the Public School System in the United States directly impacts Muslim students’ academia and mental health. Muslim students are heavily
targeted in schools solely based off their religion and appearance. Despite the lack of Islamic material incorporated in school curriculum, Islamophobic ideology is still present in schools. The United States systematically racializes Muslims making them the “mass targets of surveillance and a wide range of punitive US government policies that systematically criminalize Muslims and “Muslim-looking” people through a body of legislation that is race-neutral in its language but targets and racializes these special populations in its effects” (Grewal). This same ideology applies to the Public-School system, as many schools advertise equality among all people, but realistically that does not occur. More than twenty percent of Muslim students have reported discrimination from school staff, and in California more than fifty-five percent of Muslim students feel unsafe at their schools (Salameh). Young Muslim students in Public-School Systems are closely monitored because of their “group membership and not because of their individual qualifications” (Bayoumi). Muslim students are in constant fear of going to school, speaking out in class, making friends, and participating in classwork and activities (Mir), scared that they will become “targets of bigotry, discrimination, and ignorance, and widely stigmatized for their religious affiliation and practices even in universities widely regarded as bastions of liberal diversity” (Mir).
Muslim students are stigmatized and defined even before they have an opportunity to
open their mouths, so they feel the need to assimilate into the dominant white culture in order to escape the scrutiny they face. Leading them to live “such a double life, with double thoughts, double duties, and double classes, (they) must give rise to double worlds and double ideals, and tempt the mind to pretense or to revolt, to hypocrisy or to radicalism” (Grewal). In such a crucial time of identity Muslim students are trying to live a double life to fit with their white counterparts in order to be accepted, leaving them at risk of chronic trauma, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and substance abuse (Mir). The intense Islamophobia present in schools also affects how Muslims students perceive themselves, falling into the trap that is, how the U.S wants Muslims to be perceived. It creates internalized hatred and racism towards themselves and other Muslims. These factors, along with their constant worry on how they present themselves can cause Muslim students to lose track of their schoolwork and priorities.
Islamophobia in the Public-School system targets individuals who are outwardly Muslim.
Islamophobia is present in schools because Orientalist teachings are engrained in the United
States education system. “Islamophobia fits into certain structural aspects of the way American schools deals with recent minorities during times of crisis. Anti-Islamic rhetoric draws upon the repertoire of religious bigotry as well as traditional American racism” (Ernst). The idea that minorities, like Muslim individuals are to be feared has been produced and reproduced through concepts learned in American history. The manifestation of these ideas throughout generations has forced Muslims to become subject to this racialization. Private and structural Islamophobia in schools is an extreme issue that predominantly affects Muslim women who wear headscarves, and immigrants who are at particular risk of being targets of bigotry, prejudice, and racialized sexism. Due to stereotypes of what a “Muslim” individual looks like these groups are often marginalized at an even deeper extreme through hate speech, crime, bullying, and exclusion. Students cannot sufficiently learn and feel comfortable in a school environment if they are constantly being critique, judged and discriminated against by their peers, and staff.
In conclusion, Muslim and non-Muslim students are impacted by the absence of Islamic
material in school curriculum and the high presence of Islamophobia in the United States Public School systems. Non-Muslims students are denied the opportunity to understand and learn unbiased information about Islam because Public-School systems do not incorporate it in their teachings. This leads to non-Muslim students participating in systematic racism and forming inaccurate ideas of Muslims in America because of biased outside media resources that they use as their means of education. Due to the extreme racialization and stereotypes manifested throughout American history, Muslim students in the US are heavily affected by widespread Islamophobia in schools. The prejudice and marginalization they face directly impacts their academia, mental health, and future. The education gained during these student’s time in school will shape their identities and perception of themselves and the world around them. It is necessary that schools emphasize the importance of learning accurate information and modeling correct, respectful behavior especially when dealing with a diverse student body. Grewal argued that “the United States is a place both physical and also imagined, one that is produced and perpetually reproduced by a community of citizens who collectively imagine that they share a deep, horizontal kinship” (Grewal). In order to live in harmony with one another and build genuine relationships with one another in schooling, and beyond, it is essential that Public-School Systems in the United States educate young generations about the nature of this kind of prejudice in order to create diversity, tolerance, and equality.
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Salameh, Amna. “Islamophobia in American Public Schools.” MuslimsMatter.org, March 22,
Steve Garner & Saher Selod, “The Racialization of Muslims: Empirical Studies of
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Zareena Grewal. Unmapping Muslim World in Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims
and the Global Crisis of Authority. New York: NYU Press, 2013. (1-27)