According to a recent Muslim civil rights group [CAIR] report, anti-Muslim bias in our public school system is on the rise. As a Sacramento area Muslim parent with five children still in local public schools, the report only confirmed what our family already knew and what our kids have experienced, each in their way, for quite some time. In 2003, when my oldest daughter Wadia graduated from Grant High School in Del Paso Heights, she was the only graduate crossing the stage wearing hijab. They told me she was the first in Grant history. In 2015, when my daughter Aneesa graduated from Rio Linda High School, she too was the only one who crossed the stage wearing hijab.
I have six daughters who’ve attended Sacramento public schools and all six of them were the only ones in their schools who openly identified their faith by wearing the Muslim headscarf, hijab. All of them endured the pressure, the name calling, the stares, and the disparaging comments that sometimes accompany bigotry and religious bias. When my daughter Aaliyah played softball on the Rio Linda Bobby Sox softball team, she was the first young Muslim woman to wear her hijab while starting as a pitcher. She got stares too but she, like the rest of my daughters, always carried their Muslim identity with dignity. My daughter Aaliyah persevered and became one of the beloved members of her softball team, and successfully served as secretary for her 8th grade class at Rio Linda Preparatory Academy. My oldest daughter Wadia became a very popular senior at Grant High School and walked across the stage as the only hijabi amid the cheers, and accolades of her class-mates. My daughter Aneesa is now a student at American River College. My daughter Huda who years ago was the first Muslim girl allowed to wear a hijab at Hiram Johnson Junior High school as part of her basketball uniform, is now a college graduate.
I still have three daughters and two sons attending Sacramento public schools this school year. All my girls proudly wear their hijab. Because my children are as I am, African American, they have faced occasional bouts of racial prejudice as well. We deal with prejudice of all kinds as a family. As parents, my wife and I listen to our kids, support them, and have even had occasions where we’ve spoken to school officials who have always been open minded and helpful.
We raise our children to be proud of who they are, to stand by their faith choices, and to know that there is a long way to go in ending bigotry and misunderstanding of Muslims. We don’t tell them to get used to it, but we do teach them how to effectively deal with it, and learn from it. We know that even though we or someone else can intervene on their behalf, they must go back to those same schools and face the same occasional hate and bigotry as individuals. I am so proud of my girls and my boys, for the graceful way that they have handled bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiment throughout their young lives.
Children, like adults, can be very cruel at times, and advocacy groups like CAIR and NAACP do a lot to help educate the public about discrimination and bias against Muslims, Blacks and others. Still, most incidents go unreported. As the Imam of a local mosque for twenty years, I have heard dozens of stories about racism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and misunderstandings about Muslims. I believe that we need to do everything we can as parents to teach our children and young adults how to mitigate hatred and bias using kind words, education, and just being proud of who they are. While we are waiting for society to change, there are things that we can perhaps change in how our children react to prejudice and bigotry.
Our precious children will one day be adults, and they will inherit a polarized, fractious world. I know that my wife and I as parents will always be there for them, but we realize that they will face these challenges alone most of the time. We have confidence that they can survive bigotry, hate, racism, and bias by holding fast to the principles of patience, steadfastness, and perseverance; values that Islam teaches.
As a father, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children from harm, but I know I can’t follow them around and stand guard. It is important that we teach our children that there are more good people in our schools and in our country than there are bigots. we need to teach them to be vigilant and aware but to not give in to fear, and to put their trust in Allah. As we empower them to stand up against bigotry, let’s make sure we give them hope for the future. There is still a long way to go before we all are treated with dignity, but I believe that as a nation, and as a people, there is still hope. And Allah knows best.
Imam Luqman Ahmad (Abu)
Imam Luqman Ahmad is a writer, public speaker, consultant, and President and CEO of Mosque Without Borders. He is also the Imam of a Northern California Masjid and the author of the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect”, a book about Muslim radicalization and theological extremism in Islam, available on Amazon.com Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at imamluqman.wordpress.com.