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Islamophobia in U.S. Education



Anti-Muslim sentiment has grown in scale and visibility far beyond its association with the horrific attacks of 2001. The US government’s “War on Terror,” which began after the attacks, often pervades the domestic landscape as a war on Islamic religious “extremism.” The definitions and content of such religious extremism are so extensive that they encompass large numbers of Muslims, and they highlight Muslims as being inherently problematic. For example, the success of the 2016 presidential campaign can be said to have relied significantly on a right-wing Islamophobic fear-mongering that shariah was set to take over the US. As we grappled with the writing of this chapter about Islamophobia in US education, it became clear to us that the work that educators do daily in schools, colleges, and universities cannot be separated from a politics that undermines democratic and pluralistic values. Our chapter aims to examine current political and policy practices that are ultimately eroding a long-held and highly valued goal of “education for all.” In the first part of the chapter, we explain how “Islamophobia” has become a social fact of school life for many young people in US public schools. We then present an analysis of the Islamophobia as politically situated in higher education settings. Throughout the chapter, we offer ideas for curbing and ultimately eradicating an Islamophobia that is toxic to the educational aims of the United States.
Islamophobia in US education
Shabana Mir and Loukia K. Sarroub
Anti-Muslim sentiment has grown in scale and visibility far beyond its association with the hor-
ric attacks of 2001. The US government’s “War on Terror,” which began after the attacks,
often pervades the domestic landscape as a war on Islamic religious “extremism.” The deni-
tions and content of such religious extremism are so extensive that they encompass large num-
bers of Muslims, and they highlight Muslims as being inherently problematic. For example, the
success of the 2016 presidential campaign can be said to have relied signicantly on a right-wing
Islamophobic fear-mongering that shariah was set to take over the US. As we grappled with the
writing of this chapter about Islamophobia in US education, it became clear to us that the work
that educators do daily in schools, colleges, and universities cannot be separated from a politics
that undermines democratic and pluralistic values. Our chapter aims to examine current political
and policy practices that are ultimately eroding a long-held and highly valued goal of “education
for all.” In the rst part of the chapter, we explain how “Islamophobia” has become a social fact
of school life for many young people in US public schools. We then present an analysis of the
Islamophobia as politically situated in higher education settings. Throughout the chapter, we
oer ideas for curbing and ultimately eradicating an Islamophobia that is toxic to the educational
aims of the United States.
US school-age Muslim youth in context
In our review of news media outlets between 2015–2017 about Islamophobia and schools, we
discovered 55 documented cases of “Islamophobia” in the US and 61 in North America, and
these account for only the ones reported in major newspapers, so they do not include cases that
were not reported regionally or nationally, and in many of the federally refugee designated sites.
While these incidents have continued to occur over time, scholars of education have attempted
to address from multiple angles how key stakeholders such as schools, students, parents, and edu-
cators might negotiate this cultural and social reality. For example, in her 2011 letter from the
editorial board of the high school journal, education scholar Kate Allman wrote the following
as part of the call for research and practice pieces in connection to Islamophobia:
Islamophobia in US education
In a recent Newsweek article, Denis MacShane brought national attention to “Islamophobia”,
a term that has been used for the past two decades to describe an irrational fear of Islam
that results in discriminatory practices towards those perceived to be Muslim. As William
Dalrymple explained in a follow-up in The New York Times, this renewal of those fears
stems from the American tendency to see the Islamic world as a “single, terrifying mono-
lith” – prejudicial perceptions that continue to result in the marginalization of Muslims
from the social, political, and public life of the nation and our schools.
While this journal is uncomfortable with the term “Islamophobia” for its etymological gen-
eralizations, we, like others, argue that Newsweek’s widespread publication of the term oers
scholars an opportunity to raise questions about the current culture of fear directed towards
Muslims in America. More specically, we think that it is important to explore how fears tar-
geted at Muslim students are surfacing in schools – particularly secondary schools – and how
this problem might be addressed in and through curriculum and pedagogy.
In line with Allman’s call for research on the topic, we agree that this is a critical time for US
public schools because multiple populations of students face discrimination, marginalization, and
the very real fear of being targeted as potential threats to society. Several years ago in the United
States and in the aftermath of 9/11, an ELL high school boy from Mexico who had been in
the United States for 5 years and who was enrolled in ELL class Loukia was observing (Sarroub
2007), noted that people thought he was an Arab Muslim and gave him a hard time about it,
calling him “sand nigga” and “towel head,” so he proceeded to get a tattoo on his left arm that
said in block letters, “LATINO” and would hold up his arm whenever he heard these labels,
which he found insulting. At the time, the young man was friends and interacted daily at school
with Iraqi, Kurd, and Syrian refugees from the Second Gulf War, who themselves sometimes
experienced the name-calling as well as the furtive looks from their peers and people in their
Midwestern city. Since that time, young Muslim people in the US who are school aged often
have been perceived as a national security risk (Fine and Sirin 2008), and popular culture has
further exacerbated this idea of “othering” Arabs and Muslims in films and other social media
(cf. Mahdi 2016). As noted by The Guardian:
Fifty-five percent of Muslim students surveyed by the Council on American Islamic
Relations (CAIR) . . . reported that they were bullied at school in some form because
of their Islamic faith. That’s twice the national percentage of bullying reported by all
students, regardless of their religion. According to the CAIR survey, verbal harassment
is the most common, with non-Muslims calling Muslim students terrorists or referencing
(Irshad 2015)
While some educational scholars have resisted the term “Islamophobia” to describe patterns
of discrimination within schools, Islamophobia has taken root in schools and among youth in
public schools, and there is no end to it in sight.
As recently reported by news media outlets such as Mother Jones (Rizga 2016), which
devoted attention to Islamophobia in US schools, the Census Bureau estimates that there are
1.8 million Arab Americans in the United States, an increase of 51 percent since 2000, and
45 percent of high school students have heard racist remarks about Arabs in their classrooms.
In a recent poll, 54 percent of Americans said they did not want to accept refugees from places
like Syria, worrying that the government does not have the ability to screen out potential ter-
rorists. Since 2012, 21,000 Syrian refugees have relocated to the United States, with roughly
S. Mir and L. K. Sarroub
50 percent being under the age of 14 and attending US schools, and they too continue to
experience both discrimination and marginalization in their schools and communities.
Furthermore, the role of discrimination may be a major factor in Muslims’ emotional strug-
gles as social and cultural targets. Although American Muslims are likely to share the same
general values and aspirations as their fellow Americans, there remains a strong anti-Muslim
sentiment in the United States (Ravitz 2009). According to the Pew Research Center (2009),
58 percent of Americans see Muslims as facing a lot of discrimination. American Jews, at 35
percent, are the next highest group who report facing discrimination. Overall and during the
past ten years, a dramatic rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes toward Muslims has manifested
itself in the forms of community opposition to several proposed Islamic centers across the coun-
try, vandalism of mosques, anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, and violence toward American
Muslims (Esposito and Lalwani, 2010).
Within US public schools, there has been increased lack of awareness and need to recognize
and respond appropriately to Islamophobia when it takes place on school grounds. Whereas
Sarroub (2005) and Muir and Zine (2018[1999]) had respectively reported and crafted ways
prior to and shortly after 9/11 in which schools and teachers could constructively and produc-
tively accommodate Muslim students, this became more difficult both after 9/11 and during the
years leading to the 2016 US presidential election. “I was afraid they [teachers and administra-
tion] would have their own opinions and give priority to the others,” reported one California
student when asked about reporting Islamophobic bullying to teachers. One in five Muslim
students reported being discriminated against by school staff. A 2014 study by Council on
American Islamic Relations (CAIR) study found 29% of students who wore hijab experienced
offensive touching or pulling of their scarves. These incidents are taking a psychological toll on
Muslim youth. “At a crucial time in their identity development, they’re suffering from chronic
trauma,” says Dr. Halim Naeem, a psychotherapist and president of The Institute of Muslim
Mental Health. Dr. Naeem says that in the last few months alone, he has seen increased cases
of depression, anxiety, image issues, paranoia, and substance abuse among Muslim American
youth (Irshad 2015).
Additionally, Muslim students in schools are not the only ones who suffer from discrimi-
nation in schools during “Islamophobic” events. Teachers, too, sometimes bear the brunt of
discrimination and ill-will. For example, a teacher in Gwinnett County, Georgia received a
hand-written note telling her that she should hang herself with her head scarf rather than wear
it on her head (Sharpe 2016). As in this teacher’s case, all educators bear the responsibility of not
only teaching students but also fostering understanding and facilitating awareness and minimiz-
ing acts of hate, racism, and discrimination because the short and long-term effects on young
people are deleterious (Herzig 2014).
Imagining and implementing a response to Islamophobia in US schools
Our review of the research literature on Islamophobia and schools reveals several key studies
that demonstrate the scope of the problem as well as ways to address it. The research spans a
wide array of transformative pedagogies as well as theoretical understandings to enact change
to improve the human condition within educational settings. Importantly, they oer tangible
options for communities and schools to engage in conversation and practices that promote a
more just and open society.
One line of productive research focuses on better understanding Muslim identity in different
contexts and across different ethnic groups. Zine’s (2004, 2006) work, for example, focuses on
critically examining resources for anti-Islamophobia education to counteract neo-Orientalist
Islamophobia in US education
representations. She also explores how gender and womanhood are negotiated among young
women who wear the hijab. Similarly, Fine and Sirin (2008) conducted a mixed methods study
to better understand the identities of Muslim youth aged 12–18 and found that young women
and women negotiated discrimination and marginalization in gendered ways.
Another area of research inquiry that is more or less connected to resilience, or to use femi-
nist philosopher’s Judith Butler’s words, “insurrectionary acts,” with which young Muslims in
the US adapt to challenging situations by creating positive and counter narrative pathways.
One such study by Abu-Ras, Senzai, and Laird (2013) demonstrates that in spite of the initial
national, negative response, 9/11 led to positive changes in people’s religious identities and
facilitated adaptive action that strengthened community bonds. In the same vein, Maira (2010),
reports how Muslim East Asian high school students fostered a sense of belonging via the dis-
senting citizenship of these immigrants that questions cultural consumption, cyberculture, as
well as gendered notions of dissent and “good” Muslim identity. Shabana’s book (Mir 2014)
offers a powerful and important critique of young women on a college campus who weather
the combined “double-scrutiny” of their nation and their community as Muslim women, and
thus experience competing and sometimes conflicting dualities that are negotiated daily in their
quest to pursue higher education.
While our aim is not to provide an exhaustive list of research on Islamophobia and US
education, and given that our review of relevant literature uncovered recently published
doctoral dissertations that include promising directions in better understanding how Muslim
youth “make it” in schools, a key area of research that we deem as critical currently sponsors
immediate, pragmatic, and reform-minded pedagogies in the schools that address how and
what young people read, write, and talk about in their classes with their peers and teachers.
One example is the work of Allman (2017) in which she examines the counter-stories gen-
erated by Muslim youth in a North Carolina high school as they resist national discourses.
These serve as important texts that actively enact identities within their school that support
their reality rather than the one imposed on them by negative media portrayals. Loukia, in All
American Yemeni Girls (Sarroub 2005), describes in ethnographic detail how the high school
administration coordinated with Yemeni community members ways to accommodate aca-
demic, religious, social, and cultural norms across settings with the assistance and leadership
of students as well as school/community liaisons. Forman (2004) and Bigelow (2010) establish
connections between youth linguistic and cultural practices of Somali students in their respec-
tive educational settings, and they emphasize the importance of research and policy decisions
that are grounded in the lived realities of these young people.
Lived realities of young people currently include mixed messages about what it means to be
educated and to belong in the United States. As war, famine, displacement continue to ravage
areas of the world from which people will flee and seek refuge, it is essential that schools and
communities find ways to counter pervasive stereotypes and harmful actions toward Muslims
and all people. After all, the United States, Europe, and other nations have long histories of
participation for providing refuge to so many of the worlds’ peoples, despite the intermittent,
troubling, and alienating international polices that sometimes emerge as government leadership
changes. If the aim is to educate all children, then it follows that civic responsibility in and out
of school must work hand in hand with calling attention to and stopping Islamophobia.
Islamophobia in US higher education
In this section of our chapter, we shed light on the repercussions of Islamophobia for US aca-
demia, faculty, and students in post-secondary settings. The focus is mainly on key events and
S. Mir and L. K. Sarroub
trends that occurred during the past two decades. Specically, Shabana draws on her ethno-
graphic work in university settings to bear on Muslim students’ experiences of Islamophobia in
campus culture.
The travel ban
Politicians and the US government have participated in apportioning collective guilt to Muslim
Americans for any terrorist attack that had any Muslim involvement, and they have generated
widespread belligerence, hostility, and suspicion regarding Muslims. Every terrorist attack involv-
ing a Muslim is followed by an uptick in the level of anti-Muslim attacks by individuals, groups,
and government agencies. After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, for instance, physical and
verbal attacks on Muslims were reported after the bombing (Sacchetti 2013), with a Saudi student
injured in the blast being treated like a suspect in the news and by law enforcement (Byers 2016).
After the San Bernardino shooting, Republican presidential candidates raised the specter of war.
Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until
our country’s representatives could gure out what is going on”. Trump’s campaign manager
explained that the ban on entering the US would apply to tourists and potential immigrants – in
fact “everyone” (Kozlowska 2015). While Democratic candidates were not beating war drums,
the language of war was still present under a thin veneer of Countering Violent Extremism poli-
cies, where Muslims are all regarded as security risks, unless they are “saved” from the danger of
a violent Islam. “The vast majority of Muslims are on our side of the battle unless we drive them
away”, Hillary Clinton said (Oliphant and Whitesides 2015).
This negative climate against Muslims has affected recruitment, enrollment, employment,
curriculum, pedagogy, institutional climate, and student experiences in US higher education.
After the San Bernardino shooting, Larycia Hawkins the first black female tenured professor at
Wheaton College, expressed solidarity with the Muslim community by posting a photograph
of herself on Facebook wearing a hijab, with an accompanying statement asserting, “As Pope
Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Wheaton retaliated by placing Hawkins on
administrative leave and started proceedings to terminate her employment. Eventually, Hawkins
agreed to resign. Such public consequences, apparently for a statement of goodwill and ecu-
menical harmony, send a clear message that academic work and speech in matters of Islam is
politically charged and, in these days of employment precarity, solidarity with Muslims can be
ill-afforded. Such administrative behavior also conveys the notion that anti-Muslim racism is
acceptable. Disturbingly, just one year later, five Wheaton football players abducted a freshman
from his dorm, put a pillowcase over his head, tied him with duct-tape, played Middle Eastern
music, implying that he had been kidnapped by Muslims, and then made offensive comments
about Muslims, even attempting to insert an object into the freshman’s rectum, while joking
about having sex with a goat (Schelkopf 2018).
In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the horrific cold-blooded murder of three Muslim American
students, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, caused academic commu-
nities to become aware of the real danger faced by their Muslim students. Deah, a Syrian-
American student at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry, had just married
Yusor, a North Carolina State University graduate, two months prior, and Yusor’s sister, Razan
was a student at North Carolina State University. Their neighbor, Craig Hicks, knocked on
their apartment door, and when Deah answered, shot all three, execution-style, in their heads.
Commentators linked the murders with the election cycle, the hatemongering of Fox News and
other media outlets, the War on Terror, and “anti-extremism” programs, arguing that it was
no surprise such pervasive anti-Muslim hate would result in such violent acts (Stancill 2016).
Islamophobia in US education
The Trump administration continued not only with discursive Islamophobia but with con-
crete policy. In 2017, Trump’s executive order (and his main election promise to anti-Muslim
voters) temporarily banning immigration to the US from the Muslim-majority countries of
Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen took effect. This caused widespread unease
among current students, student applicants, and faculty, as their ability to pursue an education,
to travel and then to return to continue work, to conduct international internships, and to visit
family in their countries was now shrouded in doubt (Deruy 2017; Cohen 2017). Students
have been detained at airports, and on occasion, they have been handcuffed like criminals
(Wong 2017). Students who are from Muslim-majority countries not on the travel ban have
also reported difficulties entering the US (Wermund 2018). A new travel ban applicable to
Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela (in limited cases), and Yemen was
announced later in 2017 (New York University 2017).
In the wake of the travel ban, thirty-two higher education organizations submitted an ami-
cus brief on Trump vs. Hawaii, stating that the Presidential Proclamation of the travel ban
put at risk the financial, educational, social, and cultural benefits that international exchange
bring to the US and to American higher education (Fields 2018). The overall numbers of
international students in the US have certainly shown a decline (Redden 2017b) after years of
rising steadily, “amid widespread concern that prospective new students could be deterred by
the current political climate and uncertainty about immigration policies in the United States”
(Redden 2018c). After the 2016 presidential election, over 250 colleges and universities joined
the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign to offset the political and cultural negativity and to allay
international student concerns about difficult US immigration procedures (Redden 2017a). In
protest against the travel ban, many foreign scholars have declined to attend US conferences.
Higher education scholars are concerned that prospective international students and faculty in
general, whether from Muslim-majority nations or not, have negative perceptions of the US
as “unwelcoming or unsafe”, with ambiguous and difficult visa policies (Redden 2018b). In
this political climate, Canadian universities have successfully lured faculty away from American
universities (Redden 2018a).
Students have suffered in the current ideological milieu due to its implications for everyday
life, academic work, travel, and visas. Even before the travel ban in 2012, over 400 New York
faculty demanded an end to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisks and surveillance of Muslims, explaining
how an anti-Muslim climate harmed their students:
Students ask in class if they are being spied on. They tell us in private of their fears about
speaking in class. They come to office hours in tears because they now look with suspicion
at new members of the Muslim Student Association for fear they might be the police, and
that is not the way they want to look at other Muslims. And they, Muslim and non-Muslim
students, courageously speak out and begin to organize against the police practices and the
climate they foster – and they welcome faculty to join them.
(Sassen and Theoharis 2012)
Stigma and covering: being Muslim on campus
In Shabana’s research, documented in her book Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate
Social Life and Identity, Shabana examined how state surveillance and a global stigmatization of
Muslims as terrorists have signicantly hurt Muslim college students’ psychosocial well-being.
Though stigma against Islam is not new to the US, she found that Muslims are targets of big-
otry, discrimination, and ignorance, and widely stigmatized for their religious aliation and
S. Mir and L. K. Sarroub
practices even in universities widely regarded as bastions of liberal diversity. There is pervasive
ignorance about Islam and Muslims, against a background of Whiteness, anti-faith secularity,
and Islamophobic racism, among college students and many faculty.
Shabana conducted ethnographic research in the continually lengthening shadow of
state surveillance. Some of her research participants had close friends and acquaintances in
the Washington, DC area who had been criminalized and harassed after the 9/11 attacks in
“Operation Green Quest”. Right-wing US discourse has long featured a suspicion of Muslims
who “assimilate” into the community. Accordingly, well-known Muslims with a commitment
to working with the government and local communities were tarred by distant association with
charities, causes, and individuals. Law enforcement officers showed up at the home of a family
Shabana has known for years, and without identifying themselves properly, treated the family
like criminals, trained a weapon on the 17-year-old girl, and handcuffed her and her mother
for four hours (Gerstein 2007). Such actions by law enforcement, along with a global “War on
Terror”, led to an atmosphere of fear among Muslim college students.
Hijab-wearing women and other visibly Muslim students are at particular risk of being tar-
gets of bigotry, prejudice, and racialized sexism. The stigma of being Muslim can also mar the
quality of students’ classroom learning. Latifa, a hijab-wearing Muslim student, reported that
whenever topics related to Muslims cropped up in classes, heads turned toward her, and she
realized she was “in the hot seat, the designated Muslim spokesperson who must consistently
voice the prototypical Muslim standpoint” (Mir 2014, p. 92). Muslims students felt like they
were forced to speak for all Muslims everywhere, especially terrorists and militants who are
over-represented in the news. Muslim students are assumed to possess a fundamental set of charac-
teristics in common with a worldwide religious group – a tendency to violence and fanaticism, for
example – and “the awareness of this stereotype can inflict symbolic violence and inwardly reduce
the stereotyped individual” (Mir 2014, p. 34). This meant that Muslim students are stigmatized
and defined even before they have an opportunity to open their mouths. The destructive power
of such pervasive assumptions on post-adolescents cannot be understated.
Though being visibly Muslim – due to hijab, for example – can obligate students to rep-
resent Islam, these hijab-wearing students’ views on Islam and Muslims are often taken less
seriously than those of women who do not wear hijab. Non-Muslim peers often perceive
hijab-wearing Muslims as blind followers of faith and community, with “excessive” religious
commitment, while Muslim women who do not wear hijab are often perceived as nominally
Muslim, or “just like us” (Mir 2014, p. 92). Because the pressure to represent all Muslims, the
governments of Muslim-majority nations, and the diverse cultural practices of Muslim cultures
generates mental distress and stress for Muslim students, it is no surprise that Muslim American
students frequently play down Islamic affiliation and religiosity.
In previous writings, Shabana demonstrated how Muslim students navigate drinking culture
on college campuses, selectively playing religiosity up or down (Mir 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). For
Muslim students who seek camaraderie on campus, downplaying Muslim religiosity is a com-
mon strategy, for instance, for the sake of camaraderie that is conditional upon participation in
alcohol culture. At times they drink or go out of their way to socialize in bars, clubs, and parties,
arguing that this attempt to insert themselves into non-preferred activities is part of an American
cultural assimilationist journey of give-and-take. But, as some of Shabana’s research participants
noted, “peripheral participation” in alcohol culture creates awkward encounters where the
camaraderie Muslims experience is shallow, and their religiosity may be compromised. When
Muslims refuse to attend wet parties and bars, they often find that camaraderie in the larger peer
culture (outside the Muslim “bubble”) is closed to them. One of Shabana’s research participants,
Fatima, for example, affirmed the importance of keeping Muslim beliefs about alcohol low-key
Islamophobia in US education
and remarked that Muslims should not express their strong disapproval of intoxicants to their
peers. Amira, when she requested juice instead of beer, made sure not to state explicitly that
she was a religious teetotaler; this was not mere personal politeness, but a strategy developed to
offset the stereotype of Muslims as uptight outsiders. Someone who was negative about alcohol
might not get invited to parties again (Mir 2014).
Being Muslim can even harm one’s professional future. Yasmin, in apprehension of how
her Muslim background could potentially damage her career prospects, attempted to tone
down her Muslim identity by requesting non-Muslim references. She argued that her influ-
ence as a Muslim was greater if she were inside mainstream dominant culture. “Can you
really change things from outside the system?” she asked (Mir 2014, p. 174). Unfortunately,
for many Muslim students, the luxury of authentic identities, of being “free to be” is not
always available to them; many of them “cover” (Goffman 1963) their Muslim religios-
ity, hoping that a cultural sea-change would render them safe one day. It was in 2003 that
Yasmin expressed the hope that being part of the system, even if slightly undercover, would
yield better results. Fifteen years later, under President Trump’s Islamophobic administration,
the children of my research participants are being reared under the same fear, with the same
tenuous hope.
As students like Yasmin understand that the acceptance they receive is always at risk, they
often treat their own Muslim identities as dangerous, or a pollutant, or something to be con-
cealed or disguised. But if they do so, they may indeed comply with dominant racist demands,
becoming entirely assimilated and invisible as Muslims, internalizing some level of Islamophobia.
In invisibility lies safety. In liminality one may conduct one’s identity work in relative
Yet when the individual regards his or her own attributes as “defiling” (Goffman 1963: 7),
how genuine can such safety be? Muslim American women treated Muslim modesty, court-
ship, and teetotalism like dirty secrets, contaminations that reduced their normalcy quotient
in campus culture.
(Mir 2014, pp. 173–174)
Not all Muslim students choose the path of “covering” their identities for safety. Some, like
Amber, a Muslim student group ocer, argued that the time for safety was no more, and she
was compelled, despite her discomfort with perpetual activism, to be outspoken about being
Muslim and against Islamophobic state policies.
No one else is going to do it for us and we’re just going to be stomped on. And yes, it’s
constant pressure, but if I don’t do it then I’m not going to respect myself. . . . There’s
a handful who care. And the rest, . . . they don’t do anything about it. . . . They’ll be
like, . . . “They [law enforcement and intelligence] are all going to take us all”. . . . But
they’re not going to do anything. . . . It [apathy] is a way to protect themselves too. . . .
(Amber, quoted in Mir 2014, p. 174)
Amber perceived the strategy of the “undercover” Muslims as apathetic and selsh. But her
own strategy of being “loud Muslim” was in part inescapable, a choice made for her because she
was already hijab-wearing and visibly Muslim. “Apathetic” or “covered” Muslims operate as
individuals, hoping to survive the storm. Visibly identiable Muslims are already seen as mainly
Muslim, so their main strategy is to work publicly and collectively with other Muslims. As the
S. Mir and L. K. Sarroub
political climate worsens, some visibly Muslim students see no option other than to abandon the
“Americanization” endeavor of respectability politics.
Students like Amber seek out the safety of the Muslim student community. Muslim student
groups often play a role in providing a space where Muslims can safely be religious and find
social support. Muslim students can find comfort in these groups, pray and observe Ramadan
together, and indulge in some insider Muslim jokes. The Muslim sorority Mu Delta Alpha, for
example, was created as just such as a space to develop Muslim identity as well as a professional
network for women’s leadership (Hamdan 2017). The dry fraternity, Alpha Lambda Mu, also
seeks to provide a space for Muslim men to adhere to Islamic values as well as find brotherhood
in the community (Svokos 2017).
But some Muslim students interrogate the “insularity” of such strategies, arguing that a
“cushioned” experience “can make it easy for you to live in an insulated world, where every-
one you know doesn’t drink” (Mir 2014, pp. 218–219). Ultimately, Amira contended, Muslims
have to live in “the real world”, where they are stereotyped and their religiosity is marginalized.
Though many White students spend their entire college careers (and lives) blithely ignoring
their non-White peers without any accusations of insularity, it is the brown or black enclaves
that are marked as dangerous and wrong. The White enclave is normal; the White enclave is
“the real world” to which Muslim students must adapt.
Solidarity and resistance
After patient reliance on liberal politics of evolutionary change in this “real world”, supported
by trust in the apparent “niceness” of politicians like Barack Obama, the Trump administration’s
overt racism, anti-immigrant policies, and Islamophobia have resulted in a cultural shift in mar-
ginalized US communities. Post-9/11 a vast number of Muslim Americans spoke up to clear the
name of Muslims and Islam from the assumed taint of terrorism, misogyny, and violence. Though
Muslim American students still often “cover up” the stigma of Muslim identity, the post-Trump
era has featured many more voices that reject the necessity of Muslim apologetics, and demand
an end to racism without explaining why Muslims should be treated humanely. While Muslim
American identity in the 1990s and early 2000s tended to be inward-looking, or primarily focused
on “Muslim” interests, the “Islam is peace” explanations embedded in upwardly mobile Muslim
communities are being drowned out by Muslim demands that the US government cease mistreat-
ing Muslims and other marginalized populations, both domestically and internationally. Muslim
Americans are developing stronger and more coherent solidarity with Blacks, Latino, Native
Americans, immigrants more generally, and gender and economic activists. The Black Lives
Matter movement has played a central role in a larger critical movement against predatory capi-
talism, economic oppression, the prison industrial complex, authoritarianism, and Whiteness. In
Chicago, Black, Muslim, and Latino students organized such an imposing “Stop Trump” protest
that Donald Trump canceled his election campaign rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago
in March 2016. UIC faculty also wrote to the administration, opposing the rally (Linthicum and
Kurtis 2016). Despite the abiding relevance of the ethnographic analysis in this chapter, a deant,
more intersectional (though not new) Muslim American movement is developing in the form of
alliances in the form of protests, demonstrations, and policy demands at colleges and universities.
Among the signs of this movement is a learning resource, collectively constructed by sev-
eral university scholars, known as the “Islamophobia is Racism” syllabus. The syllabus, unlike
many educational frameworks, rejects liberal schema where racism, sexism, misogyny, and
Islamophobia are individual or inter-personal problems that can simply be resolved by educating
people to be “kind” or civil.
Islamophobia in US education
Even the term “Islamophobia”, despite its general utility, tends to indicate that the problem
is a personal one, based in fear, and “obscures the structural and systemic production of anti-
Muslim racism”. Conceptually, a focus on anti-Muslim racism is connected to an analysis of
history and forms of dominance – from white supremacy, slavery and settler colonialism, to
multiculturalism and the security logics of war and imperialism – that produce various forms of
racial exclusion as well as incorporation into racist structures. Our primary focus is on the mani-
festation and impact of anti-Muslim racism in the United States. At the same time, this syllabus
insists on thinking about anti-Muslim racism as a global project that overlaps and intersects with
the exclusion of other marginalized groups (e.g. Black, queer, Latinx, immigrant, indigenous,
etc.). It also connects the histories of various racial logics that reinforce one another, including
anti-Muslim racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Latinx racism, anti-Arab racism, and anti-South
Asian racism (Abdul Khabeer et al. 2018).
As Hammer (2013) contends, “Islamophobia is not about innate or natural fear of Islam or
Muslims. Rather, it is an ideological construct produced and reproduced at the intersection of
imperial ideology, political expediency, and the exploitation of nationalist, racial, and religious
insecurities.” Despite the growth of an intersectional movement that connects marginalized
and under-represented groups and communities in the United States, this is not a moment
for unchecked optimism, as the politics of White supremacy are securely in power under the
Trump administration. Still, perhaps thanks to the rampant racism of this overtly anti-liberal
establishment, there is potential for solidarity among a broad resistance movement to yield rich
fruits in terms of systemic anti-racism. On campus (and beyond), solidarity with Muslims against
Trump’s travel ban became a focal point of a US politics of resistance, symbolized by the large
gathering of activists and pro bono lawyers at airports to assist Muslim emigrants in the wake
of the first travel ban. With growing collaboration among different marginalized groups, with
social media increasingly connecting scholarly critique with activism, especially student activ-
ism, academia promises to be a fruitful location to address a larger, encompassing politics of
exclusion and nativism, of which Islamophobia is a part.
We have documented in our chapter the ways in which Islamophobia is manifested in US
education, the multi-layered damage that this inicts on educational participants, and the strate-
gies that generate hope for ghting Islamophobia and racism. Education in the United States is
fraught with contested and contradictory policies and practices for many of students, educators,
and educational institutions at all levels. With the ever-increasing number of Muslim people
who are displaced and seek refuge in the United States and elsewhere because of on-going wars
and conicts in the Middle East, Near East, Southeast Asia, and Africa, it is all the more crucial
to dismantle chronic anti-Muslim sentiment, action, practice, and policy such that both local
and global solutions can be implemented. Education for all can only continue to work in the
United States if democratic principles for education and people’s well-being continue to be
enacted, supported, and practiced daily and across political and ideological dierences.
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... In a global context characterized by media images, political discourses and policies that portray Muslims as an 'insider threat' and potential 'terrorist', Muslim youth are navigating their lives and negotiating their identities within very complex and contested terrains. Statistics show that there is a surge in islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims in Canada and around the world (Mir and Sarroub, 2019;Doyle & Ahmad, 2019;Sian, 2015) and visibly Muslim women and girls are mostly the victims of verbal and physical threats (Statistics Canada, 2017;Perry, 2015). Since the 2015 national election, and the victory of the liberal government in Canada, over 84,000 refugees were resettled to Canada. ...
Johannes Wolfart makes a compelling case that the nebulousness of “religious literacy” belies a complicated history not just of “religion” but of “literacy” in his recent article, “‘Religious Literacy’: Some Considerations and Reservations,” in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion . Wolfart has reservations about religious literacy, its instrumentalization, and specifically the lack of empirical evidence that would support programs that promote religious literacy. He is concerned that “religion,” “literacy,” and of course “religious literacy” are imbricated in theological projects, whether alive or long dead; ultimately, we might characterize his position as deeply concerned with religious literacy as a liberal Protestant project. In this response essay, I suggest that reducing religious literacy to Protestant liberalism prioritizes thought experiments over the survival of minoritized people and communities. It is clear that religious literacy is a framework deployed not for lofty goals of social betterment or a vague sense of liberation, but for survival: survival of academic programs and departments, survival of a body politic, and often the survival of individuals and groups who are targets of hate.
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How do filmmakers in the United States play a role in perpetuating narratives of belonging to the American culture? What is the marking line between Orientalist and post-Orientalist articulations of Arabness? In what ways have the transnational configurations of geopolitics affected the image formations of Arab Americans in Hollywood? This article emerges at the intersection of those inquiries, and provides a historical account of Hollywood’s representation of Arab Americans rooted in the 1970s. This decade, I argue, constitutes a turning point in the industry’s nationalist projections of Arabness from an Orientalist trope for Arabia to a post-Orientalist notion influenced by U.S.-Arab and Arab-Israeli geopolitics. It replaces an earlier moral geography that consumes the Orient while remaining distant from it with a new moral geography that constantly questions Arab Americans’ belonging through narratives of alienness and terrorism. The significance of this work lies in its investigation of the historical trajectory of Hollywood’s engagement with the Arab American cultural identity.
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Important, timely, and provocative. Mir reveals the struggle of Muslim American women to negotiate identities in the gaze of both the dominant and Muslim communities.--Michelle Fine, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York |A delightful and powerful read. Mir explores Muslim women's navigation of identity in the higher education context and finds that it is rich and generative, as well as troubling and alienating. The diverse perspectives of these women illuminate the many ways in which concepts of agency, modesty, normalcy, and practice are framed in contemporary society.--Sally Campbell Galman, University of Massachusetts, Amherst |Shabana Mir's impressive book focuses on a very important way in which Muslims are locating their identity in the American milieu and responding to it, even as they shape it. In particular, she shifts attention to the university campus, among the most important sites where Muslim identity is being constructed and challenged.--Omid Safi, Duke University
The aftermath of 9/11 and the corresponding rise of global militarism and imperialism have had deep consequences for the realities of Muslims around the world. The reemergence of Orientalist representations have provided the ideological justifications for military incursions. This short reflective article outlines the challenge that critical educators faced in developing an epistemological and pedagogical framework and resources for anti-Islamophobia education in response to the resurgence of neo-Orientalist politics and representations.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent "war on terror," growing up Muslim in the U.S. has become a far more challenging task for young people. They must contend with popular cultural representations of Muslim-men-as-terrorists and Muslim-women-as-oppressed, the suspicious gaze of peers, teachers, and strangers, and police, and the fierce embodiment of fears in their homes. With great attention to quantitative and qualitative detail, the authors provide heartbreaking and funny stories of discrimination and resistance, delivering hard to ignore statistical evidence of moral exclusion for young people whose lives have been situated on the intimate fault lines of global conflict, and who carry international crises in their backpacks and in their souls. The volume offers a critical conceptual framework to aid in understanding Muslim American identity formation processes, a framework which can also be applied to other groups of marginalized and immigrant youth. In addition, through their innovative data analytic methods that creatively mix youth drawings, intensive individual interviews, focused group discussions, and culturally sensitive survey items, the authors provide an antidote to "qualitative vs. quantitative" arguments that have unnecessarily captured much time and energy in psychology and other behavioral sciences. Muslim American Youth provides a much-needed road map for those seeking to understand how Muslim youth and other groups of immigrant youth negotiate their identities as Americans.
This chapter shows how nondrinking can render Muslim female students "outcast" and Other or marginal to campus culture. Participants in the study - those who drank and those who did not - claimed that college leisure spaces were alcohol dominated and that drinking helped one fit in at college. They had a strong sense of the gaze of the Other, and the presence of alcohol on campus forced them to engage with their psychic duality in different ways, so that they encountered, resisted, and employed common stereotypes about Muslims and Muslim women.
Taking Islamophobia as shorthand for a set of more complex phenomena in recent American politics this article offers an analysis of some of the ways in which Muslim women’s bodies have occupied center stage in discourses on Islam and Muslims in the United States. It focuses on representations of Muslim women as victims of their religion and the men in their communities on the one hand, and the discrimination and marginalization of the same Muslim women in public discourse and security policies on the other. Islamophobic discourses are also gendered through the particular contribution of women pundits and their claims to feminist authenticity. Recognizing the racist, xenophobic, and misogynist dimensions of Islamophobic discourses within a liberal framework makes it possible to go beyond decrying its premises and repercussions.