Countering Islamophobia in Education

This digital presentation and its accompanying notes provide an overview on the topic of Countering Islamophobia in Education, including the meaning, history, and current manifestations of Islamophobia, the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim students and their families, and ways to counter Islamophobia. This presentation is the intellectual property of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is copyright protected. This information is available for non-commercial public reference. If you plan to use any of this content, you can only use it for educational purposes and you must provide proper citations using standard citation guidelines. This presentation and its content may not be displayed in exchange for payment in cash or in kind. Please note: If you are a U.S.-based classroom teacher in middle or high school or a post-secondary institution, then we have other educator tools available to you. Please visit this page to access them.

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Countering Islamophobia in Education

This digital presentation and its accompanying notes provide an overview on the topic of Countering Islamophobia in Education, including the meaning, history, and current manifestations of Islamophobia, the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim students and their families, and ways to counter Islamophobia. 

This presentation is the intellectual property of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is copyright protected. This information is available for non-commercial public reference. If you plan to use any of this content, you can only use it for educational purposes and you must provide proper citations using standard citation guidelines. This presentation and its content may not be displayed in exchange for payment in cash or in kind.

Please note: If you are a U.S.-based classroom teacher in middle or high school or a post-secondary institution, then we have other educator tools available to you. Please visit this page to access them.

Sign up below to receive detailed scripts for this presentation.

The following is a broad overview of Islamophobia and its impact, as well as tools for countering Islamophobia and additional resources for educators. This information is to be used in conjunction with the online digital presentation. Each slide is associated with the following descriptions, which can serve as a script for those using the digital overview to present about the topic. 

The use of this resource to present about Islamophobia should be supplemented by ING’s Answers to Frequently Asked Questions. If you are interested in becoming one of our local volunteer certified speakers, join us here. We’ve also created special online presentations on Getting to Know Muslim Americans and Their Faith and An Overview of Ramadan & Fasting

Note: This presentation is the intellectual property of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is available for non-commercial public use only. This presentation and its content cannot be displayed in exchange for payment in cash or in kind.

Slide 2: Islamophobia & Its Roots

We begin by defining Islamophobia and examining its history.

Slide 3:  What is Islamophobia?

According to the Runnymede Trust in Great Britain, one of the earliest organizations to document Islamophobia, Islamophobia is defined as anti-Muslim racism, which commonly portrays Muslims and their cultures as monolithic, static, and unresponsive to change; separate, “other,” and not sharing common values with other cultures; inferior to the West; irrational, primitive, and sexist; violent, aggressive, and supportive of terrorism; engaged in a clash of civilizations; and adhering to a political ideology, not a religion. Anti-Muslim racism or bigotry is therefore seen as natural and is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.[i]

Slide 4: Roots of Islamophobia

Most people assume that Islamophobia began after 9/11. However, we find images and stereotypes of Muslims as infidels and a warring people promoted as early as the Crusades, which were a series of religious wars from the 11th to the 13th centuries that had the objective of recovering the Holy Land from Muslim rule. This view of Muslims was reinforced again in the 15th century with the beginning of European colonialism when a handful of European countries—primarily Britain, France, Spain and Portugal—colonized most non-European countries or regions, which continued until the 20th century. European colonizers asserted their power over colonized people by defining Europeans as smarter, more capable, and more human, and describing occupied peoples as backwards, primitive, exotic, and in need of civilizing. They also cast occupied people as enemies of Christianity and Western civilization.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, we once again see the reinforcement of these negative images of Muslims as well as the racialization of Muslims, similar to how other non-whites were depicted as barbaric, primitive, sexist, and violent. It is therefore not surprising that many people have these views after centuries of conditioning, long before 9/11, just as they have similar views of other non-white groups.

Slide 5: Islamophobia as Systemic Racism

Today Islamophobia has become systemic racism, which impacts Muslims in various institutions and in society at large. In education, textbooks and other resources often cast Muslims as antiquated and incompatible with modernity, sexist and oppressive towards women, or as violent terrorists. In literature, fiction and non-fiction books generally portray Muslims as backwards and sexist and there is a plethora of books about the problems with both Islam and Muslims. In the media, coverage of Islam and Muslims is generally negative. A 2018 Washington Post study of tens of thousands of articles mentioning Muslims or Islam found that 78% are negative, even when not covering terrorism; other studies have shown that “news coverage of Muslims is more negative than of other minority groups.”[ii]  Studies also show that terror attacks by Muslims in the US receive 3.5 times as much media coverage as attacks by non-Muslims.[iii] In Hollywood, representations of Muslims and Arabs have consistently been stereotypical as in the original Disney’s Aladdin. Video games are often based in the Middle East and popular games like Call of Duty reinforce stereotypes that Muslims are bad guys or terrorists. Islamophobic campaigns across the country in recent years have targeted new mosques and other cultural issues such as so-called halal turkeys taking over the Thanksgiving holiday. Biased government policies such as the 2017 travel ban have singled out Muslims based on a racialized view of them as all being a security threat.

Slide 6: Internalization (Implicit Bias)

Many people internalize these attitudes because these societal influences lead to the adoption of stereotypes, both good and bad. These in turn can influence one’s subconscious and even override one’s professed values, as demonstrated by various studies. That means that even if a person doesn’t believe that they are biased or racist, their subconscious can make them behave in biased or racist ways. This is especially true in times of fear or stress.

Slide 7: Impact of Islamophobia on Muslim Students and Their Families 

This section examines the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim students and their families.

Slide 8: Growing Anti-Muslim Sentiment

While anti-Muslim sentiment increased after 9/11, it has risen even more dramatically in the last few years. According to a 2019 YouGov poll, only 15% of Americans have a favorable view of Islam, while 37% have an unfavorable view. 56% are “very concerned” or “fairly concerned” about a possible rise of extremism in Islam.[iv] A 2017 Pew summary of reports found that 41% of Americans believe that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths and that 50% of Americans believe Islam is not part of mainstream American society.[v]

Slide 9: Impact of Islamophobia

According to a 2021 UC Berkeley report, 95% of Muslim Americans believe that Islamophobia is a problem in the United States. Over two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed reported that they have personally experienced Islamophobia in their lifetimes. Among them, 76% responded that they experienced Islamophobia recently in the last twelve months. The report showed higher rates of personal experience with Islamophobia for American-born Muslims (82% compared to 58% of foreign-born participants), young adults (81% of respondents ages 18–29), and women (77% compared to 57% of men). 94% of participants reported that Islamophobia affects their emotional and mental well-being. Additionally, most survey participants (88.2%) censor their speech or actions out of fear of how people might respond or react to them.[vi]

Slide 10: Discrimination Against Muslims

A 2020 ISPU poll found that Muslims and Jews are the most likely groups to experience any religious discrimination (60% of Muslims and 58% of Jews, compared with 26% of Catholics, 29% of Protestants, 43% of White Evangelicals, 27% of the non-affiliated, and 33% of the general public). The poll also found that Muslims experience religious discrimination in institutional settings more than any other group. This includes at the airport (44% of Muslims vs. 5% of the general public), when applying for a job (33% of Muslims vs. 8% of the general public), when interacting with law enforcement (31% of Muslims vs. 8% of the general public), and when receiving healthcare (25% vs. 5% of the general public).[vii]

Slide 11: Bullying of Muslim Students

A 2020 IPSU survey found that 51% of Muslim families say that their child was bullied for their faith, nearly double the level of families in the general public (27%).[viii]  According to a 2021 CAIR report about Muslim students in California, 47% of respondents reported being bullied for being Muslim. Verbal bullying often associates Muslims with terrorism using common insults such as “bomber,” “killer,” and “Allahu Akbar,” or comments such as, “Hey, gonna bomb the school?” According to the CAIR report, nearly a third (30%) of respondents who wear hijab reported having their scarf tugged or offensively touched. 35% of students reported seeing posts containing offensive comments about Islam or Muslims on social media and 30% of respondents reported that a student at school made offensive comments or posts about Islam or Muslims directly to them on social media.[ix]

Slide 12: Bias and Bigotry in Schools

Both the ISPU and CAIR surveys also reported bigotry and bullying by a teacher or another school official. According to the CAIR report, nearly one in four respondents (23%) reported that a teacher, administrator, or other adult at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims. Additionally, 20% of students felt that their teacher did not teach about Islam in a neutral, fair, or factual manner. It is not surprising that 56% of all respondents reported feeling unsafe, unwelcome, or uncomfortable at school because of their Muslim identity.[x]

Slide 13: Impact on Muslim Students

The impact of persistent bullying and harassment can be significant for a student and includes depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and poor academic performance. It can also lead to students missing school. According to the CAIR report, nearly 20% of respondents reported missing school because they felt unsafe, unwelcome, or uncomfortable.[xi] Muslim students describe their experiences in their own words:

“Someone asked me if I was going to blow up the school and if I was reading a book on bombs.” 

“People. . . made fun of my religion and name. I would go home and tell my mom and cry in my room.”

“People have verbally abused me for being Muslim, mocked me and Islam, and I have had my hijab pulled off by a classmate for no reason.” 

“[My] teacher . . . called on me to be an expert to explain horrific acts carried out by people in . . . Muslim countries I had never been to.”

“My teacher attacked me in front of my class saying things like ‘terrorist’ and ‘you don’t belong here.’”[xii] 

 Slide 14: Countering Islamophobia

The following section looks at ways to counter Islamophobia for teachers and students.

Slide 15: Calls to Action

Below are three major strategies for countering Islamophobia. The first step is to begin with yourself by challenging your own assumptions. The second is to adopt some of the tips and resources recommended in the presentation, especially when teaching and learning about Muslims in the classroom. The presentation concludes with ways to apply cultural sensitivity to Muslim students and their families.

Slide 16: Start with Yourself

Below we examine ways to counter your own biases.

Slide 17: Challenge Your Own Biases

The best way to counter any biases you might have is to learn more about Muslims from authentic and reliable sources. At ING we have online curricula created specifically for educators which address the following topics in great detail. They include:

It is also important to keep abreast of current events and policies relating to Muslims so that you are aware of issues that might impact Muslim students or lead to a spike in harassment or bullying.

Slide 18: Diversity of Muslims

It is essential to gain some basic knowledge about Muslims and to challenge common misconceptions, beginning with the perception that Muslims are a monolithic group of people. In fact, there are nearly 2 billion (1.9 billion) Muslims worldwide living in over 50 Muslim-majority countries and as minorities across the globe.[xiii] Because they live in so many different places, Muslims are diverse in their nationalities, races, languages, and cultures. In fact, religion is only one factor in a Muslim’s life. Additionally, Muslims, like all people of faith, vary in the practice of their faith. Some are nominally religious, while others are moderately or very observant.

Slide 19: Muslim Women

There is great variation in Muslim women’s rights today, since religious interpretation and practice are impacted by other factors such as culture, education, and economic and social class, which are diverse across different Muslim-majority countries and communities. The Qur’an emphasizes the spiritual equality of men and women and affords women rights that were progressive for their time, including the right to earn and keep their wealth and inheritance and to marry and divorce by their own choice. A growing number of Muslim women worldwide are physicians, engineers, lawyers, and businesswomen, and a significant number of women have even served as heads of state in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Slide 20: Violent Extremism in the United States

Violent extremism in the United States is mainly committed by far-right extremists. According to an ADL report, in 2018, 98% of extremist killings in the US were by far-right extremists and only 2% were by domestic Islamist extremists. In the period from 2009 to 2018, right-wing extremists perpetrated 73.3% of domestic extremist-related killings in the US, Islamist extremists were responsible for 23.4%, and left-wing extremists for 3.2%[xiv].

 Slide 21: Educator Resources 

We will now look at some educator resources for teaching and learning about Islam, Muslims, and related subjects.

Slide 22: K-12 Educator Training 

ING provides K-12 educator training for teachers and staff which addresses challenges faced by Muslim students in the current environment and provides solutions to those challenges, including adopting school policies to prevent bullying. The training also covers guidelines for teaching about religion in general, and specifically provides educational resources for teaching about Muslim history and culture in the context of world history and social studies classes.

 Slide 23: ING’s Presentations and Panels

ING provides presentations through our Islamic Speakers Bureau, which supplement content standards for grades 6-12 about Muslims in the context of world history and related subjects free of charge on the following topics:

  • Getting to Know Muslims Americans and Their Faith
  • Muslim Contributions to Civilization 
  • A History of Muslims in America
  • Muslim Women Beyond the Stereotypes

To schedule an Islamic Speakers Bureau presentation, visit: www.ing.org/presentation.

Slide 24: ING’s Presentations and Panels

ING also provides panels through our Interfaith Speakers Bureau featuring representatives from the five major world faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism), which supplement content standards for grades 6-12 free of charge on the following topics:

  • Living the Faith
  • Shared Values Among Faiths
  • Religion and Pluralism
  • Religion and Extremism
  • Women and Religion
  • Peacemaking in Religion
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Three Abrahamic Faiths
  • Muslim-Jewish Panel

To schedule an Interfaith Speakers Bureau panel, visit: www.ing.org/panel.

Slide 25: ING’s Presentations and Panels

ING’s newest program is the Intercultural Speakers Bureau, which provides panels free of charge which examine the origins and impact of bigotry in the US today. The panel consists of Americans of African, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, Muslim, and Jewish backgrounds discussing their histories and experiences of bigotry and racism, as well as strategies for countering them. The second panel supplements 14 lesson plans that we provide to educators free of charge and consists of the same group of panelists discussing what they want people to know about them.

At ING, we recognize that all forms of racism and bigotry are related, and that we cannot counter Islamophobia without simultaneously countering racism and bigotry against African Americans, Indigenous Peoples, and other communities. To schedule an Intercultural Speakers Bureau panel, visit: www.ing.org/intercultural.

Slide 26: ING’s Presentations and Panels

ING offers online interactive curricula to educators free of charge which supplement content standards for grades 6-12 on the following topics:

  • Countering Racism (which consists of 14 lesson plans)
  • Getting to Know Muslim Americans and Their Faith
  • A History of Muslims in America
  • Muslim Contributions to Civilization
  • Muslim Women Beyond the Stereotypes
  • Emir Abd El-Kader: A Muslim Hero for Our Time
  • Multi-faith: Living the Faith and Shared Values

Each curriculum includes presentation notes, discussion questions, activities, and dozens of films and film clips. To access our online curricula, visit: www.ing.org/academic.

Slide 27: Online Presentations about Muslim Americans

We provide other online presentations and scripts to educators and the general public free of charge which supplement content standards for grades 6-12 on the following topics:

  • Getting to Know Muslim Americans & Their Faith
  • An Overview of Ramadan and Fasting

To access our online presentations, visit: www.ing.org/slideshows.

Slide 28: Online Answers to 150+ Frequently Asked Questions

Also online are answers to over 150 frequently asked questions about Islam, Muslims, and Sharia in the United States. To access our answers to frequently asked questions, visit: www.ing.org/all-faqs.

Slide 29: Educator Toolkit

ING also has an online Educator Toolkit that features our various speakers’ bureaus and their offerings, lesson plans that supplement required curriculum, and other resources. To access our Educator Toolkit, visit: www.ing.org/educator-toolkit.

Slide 30: Apply Cultural Sensitivity Towards Students and Parents

The next section examines how to apply cultural sensitivity towards Muslim students and parents.

Slide 31: Parent Engagement

The involvement of parents is important for both the academic and social success of their children. Some Muslim parents, especially recent immigrants who have limited English fluency, may need extra encouragement and outreach to engage with their children’s school. Make an extra effort to encourage parents to attend back-to-school night or open house, parent-teacher conferences, volunteer opportunities in the classroom or school, and social events such as international night and science fair. Consider providing translation services if there are large numbers of non-English speakers.

Slide 32: Student Rights

Students’ religious rights are protected by the First Amendment. These include, for example, the rights to wear religiously mandated clothing and observe dietary rules. They also include the right to engage in personal worship as long as it is not disruptive or during class time. Additionally, the Equal Access Act of 1984 affirms the right of students to participate in student-initiated religious activities. These include religious clubs and even the right to inform others about their religion in an appropriate manner.

Slide 33: Other Student Rights 

Other student rights include protection from harm, which means ensuring both their physical safety on school premises, as well as their emotional safety from stress or harm. That means that the school must respond appropriately and in a timely fashion to any harassment or bullying, even if the perpetrator claims it is in jest.

Slide 34: Things to Avoid

Other things to avoid include making fun of or punishing students for wearing hijab or other religious clothing or forbidding them to do so; making fun of a student’s name, country of origin, or religion; praising or criticizing one religion over another or suggesting that a student should convert to another religion for any reason; and using biased or inaccurate teaching materials. One should also avoid teaching about 9/11 in elementary schools without additional context or background about Muslims. In addition, the subject matter may not be suitable for that age group. One should also avoid using stereotypical films like Not Without My Daughter, or fictional books like Shabanu to teach about Islam, which not only stereotype Muslims, but create an environment where Muslim students are ashamed of their faith or humiliated because of how their faith is represented.

Slide 35: Language Considerations

Muslim Americans are generally happy to answer queries about their faith if stated in a way that avoids assumptions or judgment and seeks understanding. For example:

  • Instead of asking “Why do they hate us?”, ask “Help me understand why some…?”
  • Instead of asking “Tell me what your people think about (x)?”, ask “What do you think about (x)?”
  • Instead of asking “Why are women treated so poorly in your religion?”, ask “What does your faith say about women?” or “What is your experience as a Muslim woman?”
  • Instead of asking “Is someone forcing you to wear that scarf on your head?”, ask “Why do you wear a head scarf?”
  • Instead of asking “Why is there so much violence in your country?”, ask “My understanding is that your family is from (x country) and I read that there is conflict there. If so, are they impacted by the conflict?”

It is important to avoid generalizations about Islam and Muslims, who are diverse and have varying perspectives. Similarly, Muslims Americans should not be expected to represent or be an expert on Muslims around the world.

Slide 36: Apply Cultural Sensitivity

Apply cultural sensitivity and learn about common issues that impact Muslim students at school. Observant Muslims do not eat pork or pork by-products, including gelatin. Some girls wear hijab, which they will not take off in public. Girls who wear hijab may be more likely to be targets of harassment and bullying. Some students may avoid partnering with the opposite gender during a lab or other activity. During physical education, some students may request to be excused from swimming or dancing or ask to wear sweats under their shorts. Some students may ask to pray noon prayer at school in an empty classroom or the library. Fasting students during the month of Ramadan may request to go to the library during lunch; they may also ask to be excused from rigorous activities in PE. Since Muslim holidays follow a lunar calendar, they rotate around the year, so it is important to update the calendar every year. Ramadan in 2022 begins the first week of April and the first main holiday which follows Ramadan is the first week of May. Students may be absent on the two main holidays, so it is advisable not to schedule tests on those days and to excuse absences.

Slide 37: Work to Prevent Bullying

Bullying prevention means creating an inclusive environment for all students. It is important to promote schoolwide activities that encourage tolerance and diversity, such as the Know Your Classmates program. Address prejudice and its roots in the classroom or schoolwide through discussions or assemblies. Have students share their own experiences with harassment and brainstorm solutions. Invite guest speakers to address stereotypes. Exhibit sensitivity in classroom discussions about conflicts during times of crisis, such as after an act of violence or during a war. Extra diligence is warranted during a crisis situation or if students exhibit signs of harassment.

Slide 38: Address Bullying When it Happens

It is critical to address bullying when it happens in a timely manner. The first step is awareness and recognition of the problem. The second step is a zero-tolerance policy with strictly enforced and clearly enunciated consequences. The third step is to mediate bullying with all parties. If the problem persists it is important to include the parents. It is also important to acknowledge and address the personal views of teachers and staff on current events or issues. Hold staff sensitivity or cultural diversity workshops that help address stereotypes or misconceptions.

Slide 39: Schedule a Presentation

Write to us to request a university level academic presentations on Islamophobia, its roots, and manifestations in the United States and around the world. We also have trainings on countering Islamophobia in law enforcement, corporations, and healthcare delivery: [email protected].

Slide 40: 

This presentation was produced by Islamic Networks Group (ING)

www.ing.org

[i] Gordon Conway, “Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All,” Runnymede, 1997, https://www.runnymedetrust.org/companies/17/74/Islamophobia-A-Challenge-for-Us-All.html.

[ii] Erik Bleich and A. Maurits van der Veen, “Newspaper coverage of Muslims is negative. And it’s not because of terrorism,” The Washington Post, December 20, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/12/20/newspaper-coverage-of-muslims-is-negative-and-its-not-because-of-terrorism/.

[iii] Erin Kearns, Allison Betus, and Anthony Lemieux, “Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?,” Justice Quarterly, February 4, 2020, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2928138.

[iv] Joel Rogers de Waal, “Western/MENA attitudes to religion portray a lack of faith in common values,” YouGov, February 3, 2019, https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2019/02/03/westernmena-attitudes-religion-portray-lack-faith-.

[v] Michael Lipka, “Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world,” Pew Research Center, August 9, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/09/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/.

[vi] Elsadig Elsheikh and Basima Sisemore, “Islamophobia through the Eyes of Muslims: Assessing Perceptions, Experiences, and Impacts,” UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute, September 2021, https://belonging.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/2021-09/Islamophobia%20Through%20the%20Eyes%20of%20Muslims.pdf.

[vii] Dalia Mogahed and Erum Ikramullah, “American Muslim Poll 2020,” The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, October 1, 2020, https://www.ispu.org/american-muslim-poll-2020-full-report/.

[viii] Dalia Mogahed and Erum Ikramullah, “American Muslim Poll 2020,” The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, October 1, 2020, https://www.ispu.org/american-muslim-poll-2020-full-report/.

[ix] “Examining Islamophobia in California Schools,” CAIR California, October 2021, https://static.ca.cair.com/reports/islamophobia/downloads/cair-ca-bullying-report-2021.pdf.

[x] “Examining Islamophobia in California Schools,” CAIR California, October 2021, https://static.ca.cair.com/reports/islamophobia/downloads/cair-ca-bullying-report-2021.pdf.

[xi] “Examining Islamophobia in California Schools,” CAIR California, October 2021, https://static.ca.cair.com/reports/islamophobia/downloads/cair-ca-bullying-report-2021.pdf.

[xii] “Singled Out: Islamophobia in the Classroom and the Impact of Discrimination on Muslim Students,” CAIR California, October 16, 2019, https://ca.cair.com/sacval/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2019/10/Anti-Bully-Report_2019.pdf?x62983.

[xiii] “Muslim Population by Country 2021,” World Population Review, accessed December 20, 2021, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/muslim-population-by-country.

[xiv] “Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2018,” ADL Center on Extremism, accessed February 28, 2019, https://www.adl.org/media/12480/download.