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Spike in suburban anti-Muslim bullying is cause for alarm, says local Islamic group

In response to the uptick, CAIR Chicago is launching a new initiative to help combat bullying in schools.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR Chicago, announces a new initiative Thursday in response to a recent uptick in bullying of students with Middle Eastern roots.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR Chicago, announces a new initiative Thursday in response to a recent uptick in bullying of students with Middle Eastern roots.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A student with Middle Eastern features is asked if he is a “terrorist.” Another is told to go back to Saudi Arabia. A young woman wearing a hijab is told by her principal that prejudice was something she was simply going to have to learn to deal with.

A recent spike in the bullying of students of Middle Eastern descent in suburban Chicago schools needs to be urgently addressed, members of the Council on American Islamic Relations said Thursday.

“It’s every day we are getting calls from different family members, different school districts throughout the suburbs of Chicago,” said Emma Melton, a lawyer with the group, speaking to reporters at the organization’s downtown office. “Usually, they come in gradually throughout the school year. To see this to come in just a one-month period is really alarming to us.”

The group couldn’t point to a specific reason for the uptick. They say they haven’t seen a similar spike within the city itself. They say some of the incidents include the direct involvement of teachers or of teachers turning a blind eye to bullying incidents.

To help combat bullying, the group launched a new initiative Thursday, Healsters.org. The site offers schools the opportunity for “cultural awareness” and “bystander intervention” training, as well as as a hotline for students to call if they are being bullied.

During Thursday’s news conference, CAIR Chicago’s executive director, Ahmed Rehab, told the story of a 16-year-old boy who, before he died earlier this year, was relentlessly bullied in school. Rehab described the teen’s wounds as “self-inflicted,” saying the family is awaiting police and coroner’s final reports.

“We do know that bullying is what spurred him to that closet where the gun was, regardless of what transpired thereafter,” Rehab said.

Aishah Hasan, the teen’s older sister, said his school “decided he was too Arab and Muslim to be treated like a human being.”

Kids in the hallway called him “Taliban,” she said.

“They would make fun of his Arab features that were so beautiful to his mom. Nothing was ever done about it,” she said.