The Islamic Networks Group (ING), an educational advocacy group, reports that bullying has sadly almost become the norm for Muslim children as anti-Muslim sentiment has risen in the nation during the Trump era. More than 42% of Muslims in the U.S. report bullying among their school-age kids and in California, it’s more than half (according to the Institute for Social Policy and the Council on American-Islamic Relations). And Pew reported in 2012, that at least 53 proposed mosques and Islamic centers had encountered community resistance.
The Afzal family live in Gilroy, California and report that the family is facing bullying and Islamophobia in many parts of their lives — at their daughters’ high school and their efforts to build a local mosque. They’re choosing to deal with it by sharing their stories through educating administrators, classmates and neighbors. The family contacted the school and two advocacy organizations, including the Islamic Networks Group, to report their daughter’s bullying at school. “They deal with situations where they are being targeted or called terrorists. In some situations, this actually comes from the administrators and teachers,” says Ishaq Pathan, who runs the youth programs at ING. He worked with the school to create a presentation about inclusion and understanding people’s differences, and now it’s a model that ING offers other schools. “The main thing that we’re focusing on is religious-based bullying,” says Mr. Pathan. “And a lot of what we believe is that religious-based bullying is based on ignorance and miseducation.”
The family of six currently prays in a remodeled barn but has been trying to build a mosque with a community center and cemetery for years, but the project has met huge resistance with their neighbors. Noshaba Afzal says that at a city meeting in 2012, person after person got up and “just blasted…’we don’t want them here. They’re bringing Sharia law. You guys are terrorists.'” Noshaba refused to accept this and countered, “No, this is not the America we want it to be. And we know America can be what we want, where it’s inclusion and it’s our rights. And we just want to practice.”