by David Sheridan
It started with the inflammatory ads on the sides of buses. Millionaire Pamela Geller had purchased anti-Muslim ads for 100 city buses in San Francisco. A court ruled that for the transit authority to reject the ads would be a violation of Geller’s First Amendment right of free speech.
The ads showed pictures of ISIS atrocities and proclaimed, “It’s not Islamophobia. It’s Islamorealism.” The message was as subtle as a sledgehammer: all Muslims are Jihadist terrorists.
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Of course students saw the ads. And they brought their questions into social studies teacher Fakhra Shah’s classroom at Mission High School. She saw this as a teachable moment.
Shah knows first hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of anti-Muslim slurs and stereotyping. A Muslim who grew up in the Bay Area, she’s experienced them her whole life. The discussion she led among her students about Islam emphasized the cultural and ethnic diversity of the people around the world who practice Islam. It went well.
Then this school year came the Paris bombings and the shootings in San Bernardino. And again the question arose: Are all Muslims terrorists?
Says one of Shah’s Muslim students: “My teacher facilitated a discussion about it in our class. It took away the fear. I was so moved by the respect and understanding our (school’s) Latino, Black, White, and Asian Americans showed toward Muslims.”
While most of Shah’s students seem to encounter more Islamophobia outside school than in, the bullying and harassment of Muslim students in schools across the nation has increased sharply over the last year, according to a survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Shah says the tools she has acquired to teach about racism, sexism and homophobia have proven useful in dealing with hatred of Muslims. In addition, she has developed a Lesson and Power Point specifically on Islamophobia, and has shared them with her colleagues.
She hopes other educators will find her Lesson and Power Point useful, noting the recent Mother Jones article “The Chilling Rise of Islamophobia in Our Schools.”
“There is no reason for educators to be tongue-tied when confronted with Islamophobia,” says Shah, adding: “Educators are powerful when we bring the world into our classroom, deconstruct ignorance and hate, and cultivate compassion.”
Troubled Muslim students also seek Shah out for one-on-one talks. “I create a safe place for these students. I reassure them that I do not see them as an alien. And I try to show them as much empathy and compassion as I can.”
To access “Protecting Our Muslim Youth From Bullying,” go to www.stopbullying.gov .