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Number of Muslim students bullied declines but rate is still double the average, study finds

Forty percent of Muslim students in California have been bullied at school because of their faith, according to a report released this month by the…

Forty percent of Muslim students in California have been bullied at school because of their faith, according to a report released this month by the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations California.

Though a sharp decline from the previous year, that’s more than twice the national average for school bullying.

The study, which was conducted by the state chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim American civil rights and advocacy group, surveyed about 1,500 Muslim students ages 11 to 18 in public and private schools statewide.

Nearly 30% reported teachers and administrators making offensive comments about Islam and Muslims, while 35% said they had seen offensive comments or posts on social media.

“We really can’t ignore the fact that right now in the media, and among a lot of our politicians, hate language is being normalized in a way that trickles down to our students,” said Patricia Shnell, senior civil rights attorney for CAIR-LA in Anaheim, one of four offices for CAIR-CA. “We really need to continue to push back against this idea that you can talk about an entire group of people in a disrespectful manner and it be acceptable.”

Ahlam Elabed, the mother of a special needs high school student in Redlands and a client of CAIR-LA, said her son has been called a terrorist, had “Allahu akbar” — Arabic for “God is great” — shouted at him in a ridiculing way and had his photo taken without his permission, Photoshopped with racist images and distributed to classmates.

“My son was ashamed of the bullying, and worse it happened so often that he became accustomed to it, he began to feel that enduring the bullying was simpler than the risk he would face of retaliation were he to report it,” she said in a statement.

Suhein Beck, a resident of Trabuco Canyon and a former board member of New Horizon, an Islamic school in Irvine, said Muslim children are also bullied outside of school. She recalled that after the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, which left 14 dead, a Muslim girl she knew who wears a hijab received physical threats at a mall.

Ahlam Elabed, a client of CAIR-LA, describes the bullying her son has faced. She attended an Anaheim news conference where a study showing that 40% of California’s Muslim students reported being bullied for their faith.

“It always flares up after an incident,” she said. “San Bernardino hit us hard.”

At the same time, the report shows that faith-based bullying of Muslim students is for the first time on the decline.

Since CAIR-CA started surveying Muslim students about bullying in 2013, the numbers had always trended upward. But this year’s 2018-19 study marked a 13% drop in bullying rates since 2016-17, when 53% reported bullying.

“Each year we had seen that number rise, and this year we saw a rather significant drop,” Shnell said. “It seems like we’re finally seeing a positive turn in the trend.”


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