At the playground of a local Chick-fil-A in California, my 6-year-old daughter made friends with a cute blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl about the same age. After running up and down the indoor play space for 10 minutes, my daughter came back to finish eating her chicken burger.
The blond-haired girl followed and sat down at our table, too. As she sat down, she stared at me, probably looking at my headscarf tightly wrapped around my head. Without missing a beat, she asked, “Are you Muslim?”
I was almost surprised that a young girl could be this self aware. My daughter turned to me, covering her mouth with her hand, and whispered, “Mom, can I tell her that I’m Muslim?”
The moment was surreal in so many ways. As mothers, we do all we can to protect our young, but also wish for them to be confident in who they are. And yet in that moment, all I could think was why a young girl, my own daughter, has to question her identity and ask permission to reveal who she is.
She made me realize just how much American Muslims have internalized the minority, and perhaps even inferiority status that has been projected on to us by politicians and the right-wing media.
Perhaps one thing that the second presidential debate underscored was the fact that the issue of Muslims continues to be one of the most contentious of this presidential campaign. Donald Trump and the alt-right’s bullying rhetoric toward Muslims have had a devastating effect on Muslims, especially children, in this country, including my own.
Just last week, a 7-year-old boy in North Carolina was beaten on a school bus by five other boys shouting anti-Muslim slurs. The bullying of children has gotten so bad that the state of California, where I live, passed a Safe Place to Learn Act, which helps monitor and protect Muslim, Sikh and other South Asian students from harassment and bullying.
According to a 2015 Council on American Islamic Relations report, 55% of Muslim students have reported being subjected to bullying based on their religious identity. That’s 55% too many.