When Basir Jamil was 8 years old in 2001, he hated the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center, smashed into the Pentagon and downed an airplane full of people in rural Pennsylvania.
So when he was called the same thing—a terrorist—a few years later in middle school, he was shocked.
Basir, now a senior at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, Md., says he hears fewer insults directed at him or other Muslim students today.
But he knows that’s not the case for thousands of other Muslim kids across the country.
“People should have the right to speak out, but they should be more educated before they say something,” says Basir, 17, whose parents are from Pakistan. The Islam he has been raised with is a peaceful religion, he says.
America’s 2.5 million Muslims make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. Anecdotally, we know that many Muslim students face discrimination. Unfortunately, no group or government agency keeps statistics on the subject. But some cases have warranted investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Muslim groups have reported widespread bias as well. The Islamic Networks Group is a San Jose, Calif., nonprofit that promotes education about Islam. In recent years, the group has spoken with Muslim students about what they were experiencing. Content Director Ameena Jandali says her organization wanted to know if the students’ beliefs had made them targets for taunts and bias. “We were shocked to see it was happening on a regular basis,” she says.
Inflamed by the News
Jandali says news stories frequently trigger anti-Muslim incidents. In recent months, those stories included the controversy over a Florida preacher threatening to burn Qur’ans and the uproar that followed plans to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site in New York. Jandali says just about any anniversary of September 11 also heightens the tension for Muslims.
“Now it’s to the point where it’s like, ‘What’s it going to be today?’” she says. “It’s been such a long cycle.”