Protecting Our Muslim Youth from Bullying: The Role of the Educator

Cross-posted from the Stopbullying Blog.

Not since the days and months immediately after September 11 has the Muslim community faced the level of anti-Muslim bias and bullying that has been seen over the past several months. In the wake of Paris and other terrorist attacks, combined with the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a lack of information among the public about Islam, and the tendency to associate  Islam with terrorism, there has been an increase in expressions and incidents
targeting the Muslim community and those who are perceived to be Muslim, such as members of the Sikh community. There has also been an increased wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in our public discourse, political rhetoric and everyday interactions.  Schools have not been immune. Youth have been called, “terrorists” or “ISIS.” There have been physical attacks, verbal threats, and social isolation. These are just a few of the many ways anti-Muslim sentiment has impacted schoolchildren who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

As a result of bullying and harassment, students may feel threatened, frightened, and disconnected from school. Their academic performance may suffer. Across the country, all parents need to talk with their kids and educate them on how they can prevent bullying. Parents should try hard to help their children appreciate their peers and make friends across different cultures.


Educators have an important role to play as well. Classrooms and schools should provide learning environments that are not only free from discrimination and harassment based on protected traits—including religion—but should also be conduits for students to build bridges with other students across different backgrounds, break down stereotypes, acknowledge and affirm important aspects of their identity, and learn how to be an ally when faced with bullying and bias.

Here are a few important anti-bias and bullying prevention strategies that teachers can use to address anti-Muslim sentiment:

  • Create an anti-bias learning environment Site exit disclaimer. This means incorporating the experiences, perspective and words of Muslim people into the curriculum through social studies and current events instruction, children’s literature Site exit disclaimer, in order to learn about different cultures. When you teach about world religions, be sure to include Islam. When slurs and insults are directed at specific students, intervene quickly and directly. Further, present yourself as approachable so that when incidents of bias or bullying arise inside or outside the classroom walls, students feel comfortable talking with you about it. It’s also important to be aware that some Muslim students may feel relieved and comfortable discussing these issues in class and others may feel nervous, scared or angry to be talking about a topic so close to home.
  • Teach students about stereotypes, bias, and discrimination. This should happen proactively before any incidents—anti-Muslim or otherwise—occur so that young people understand the language of bias and the distinction between different concepts. Use current events Site exit disclaimer—many of which are ripe with examples of bias and injustice, to help students understand real-world incidents and discuss what actions they could take to make a difference. Develop students’ ability to challenge biased language, Site exit disclaimer especially jokes and slurs. Deconstructing bias and stereotypes will help students reflect on their origins and will ultimately help build empathy among young people.
  • Encourage students to learn how to be an ally Site exit disclaimer when faced with bias or bullying.  Adults are often not around when these incidents occur; give students the skills to do something.  Help students expand their understanding of what ally behavior is and encourage them to move from being bystanders to acting as allies. Contrary to the popular notion that “standing up” is the only way to be an ally, there are several less threatening and still effective ways to be an ally including: not participating, supporting the student being bullied, getting to know people instead of judging, and more. In addition, share inspiring examples like Walk a Mile in Her Hijab, Site exit disclaimer whose goal is to spread awareness about Muslim cultural traditions and to combat anti-Muslim bias.

Educators play a vital role in fostering safe, welcoming learning communities for their students and, given the unsettling rise in anti-Muslim prejudice, the efforts teachers make to support all of their students and build understanding and respect are more critical than ever.

For more information and Federal guidance on schools’ obligations to respond to harassment, check out the resources at the Stopbullying Blog.

Jinnie Spiegler is Director of Curriculum at the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Sisaye is with the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. Islam is not merely a religion; it is also a totalitarian, supremacist political ideology. Walk a mile in her hijab? No. If you see a woman in a hijab, you should think about sharia law and how dehumanizing and incompatible with our Constitution it is.

    This kind of nonsense is one of many reasons the U.S. Department of Education should be dismantled.

  2. I don’t see any sinister attempt to teach and spread the Islamic religion by the above blog. On the contrary, by knowing and discussing the tenets of Islam as compared to Christianity, Judaism or other religions by students in a class room setting may lead to understanding and acceptance of the diversity of the human condition.
    Neither is the awareness of bulling conditions in schools is encouraging and spreading Islam. Rather it is the duty of teachers to create a safe and peaceful environment in their classes.

  3. Why is the bullying of muslims any more important than the bullying of other kids.
    Educators should be stopping ALL bullying.
    On the other side of the coin, if you want to live in this country, prepare to be treated as good or as bad as any other AMERICAN citizen. muslims don’t deserve ANY special treatment.

  4. It is clear that Muslims have infiltrated all levels of government and are now attempting to slyly indoctrinate our youth. This it’s offset of their plan to take over, but people are more worried about who’s winning American idol rather than pay attention to the crumbling of our nation.

    If I teach Christianity I am stepping over the line but if I teach about Islam I am not? Blatant violation here and hypocrisy at its finest.

  5. This is totally inappropriate for any educator to bring up in class. That is a parents job because it has to do with religion. You have already overstepped your role by introducing Islam into the classroom in the first place. We know Muslims are the people you are buying our school books from. They own publishing companies. This is soooooo wrong on sooooo many levels. I feel for my grandkids and future generations because our teachers aren’t speaking up for our kid’s rights. They know not to teach this Islamic crap in schools but they do it instead of refusing and bringing it to the parents. Dam sheep.

  6. You folks have lost your collective minds. You are advocating the teaching of religion in the public school system. It is one thing to teach a something about the origins of all religions equally, but, too much emphasis is being placed on Islam and the Muslims.

    No other group on the planet has expressed its desire to kill Americans as has the Muslim community. In fact, if you research history, you will see that President John Adams created the United States Navy as a result of Muslim threats to American shipping back in the 1700’s.

    This group has been killing Christians and Jews for 1,500 years. It is not going to stop anytime soon. Why aren’t you teaching THAT in your curriculum?

  7. Maybe you should focus more on American children instead of foreigners. Why don’t you focus on Wicca which is a religion where people can’t even acknowledge their religion without being judged.

  8. With the decades of blatant anti-Christian government bias, the government has a lot of nerve attempting to cloak its promotion of Islam as an anti-bias campaign. Outrageous. Why don’t you focus on education instead of indoctrination.

  9. This suggestion about Islam teaching in schools is a direct violation of separation of Church (Religion) and State and violates the Constitutional power that has been given to our Congress and by citizen’s power, to the Department of Education. Simply tell them to teach that bullying is wrong and use the example of what ISIS and other Muslim groups are doing to Christians (i.e., beheadings, rapes, torture, kidnapping) in their countries.

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