Costly rhetoric: New report finds increase in bullying against California’s Muslim teens

Islamaphobia ‘prevalent’ in Sacramento schools, says civil rights attorney

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the November 16, 2017, issue.

When it comes to high school bullying in California, Muslim students may be feeling the pain more than anyone.

That’s the finding of a new report from the Council on American Islamic Relations. The effort surveyed 1,041 Muslim students between the ages of 11 and 18 at public and private schools across the state. About 10 percent of those students lived in Sacramento County. Comparing the findings to a similar 2014 survey, CAIR concluded that bullying of Muslim students was up in all categories, including cyberbullying, peer-to-peer bullying and discrimination from school administrators.

The CAIR report states that 36 percent of those surveyed said they faced harassment for wearing the hijab last year, an increase of 7 percent since 2014. The survey also found an increase in reported discrimination and bullying from school officials—20 percent in 2014, compared to 38 percent in 2016.

Saad Sweilem, a civil rights attorney with the Sacramento chapter of CAIR, said the Donald Trump factor can’t be ignored. “We’re seeing the political rhetoric having an effect on our children,” Sweilem said. “Hate, in a lot of ways, has been emboldened.”

Sweilem helped conduct the surveys in the new report. She cautioned that a specific breakdown of local incidents was not performed, but said anecdotal evidence suggests Islamophobia is present in Sacramento schools as part of a larger statewide and national trend.

“It’s definitely something here in Sacramento that’s prevalent,” Sweilem said. “Kids were telling me the same stories here, whether it’s being called a terrorist, being called a monster, being called ISIS. It’s really awful things for children to have to deal with.”

Saniya Mohiuddin, 17, who recently graduated from Folsom High School and wears the hijab, said that while she’s not experienced any direct incidents of bullying, the political tenor has made her more cautious about going outside for walks.

Zaid Akhter, a member of the Muslim Community of Folsom’s Mosque, was also not surprised by the findings of the report. “The students and children in our community have complained about an uptick in bullying over the last two years,” Akhter said. “Ladies in the community as well, because they’re more visible, are suffering more abuse.”