I always tell my students that we had an easier time growing up in Canada than they do now. They always ask what I mean, sounding almost surprised at my statement. I tell them that the reality of the situation is that, when I was growing up here, many people had many questions about Islam, why we wore hijab and prayed in the manner that we did. More often than not, it was a pleasant conversation, one in which we were able to explain our wonderful religion, prayer and the spectacular similarities that came with other monotheistic religions, such as Judaism and Christianity.
Now, Muslims are having to defend themselves, their religion and their way of life. Interfaith dialogues are definitely on the increase, but so too, is a lack of understanding from many more people. Well-meaning actions are now almost being scrutinized and looked down upon at times.
Teachers and adults in the lives of students, and youth in particular, need to do things to empower their students. Raise their morale; let them feel comfortable sharing their views and their concerns.
Discuss – Discussions need to be had. Discuss with the students what is going on out there, and what can be done. They may be having identity crises and may be confused about hijab and the like.
Engage – Have students engage in partner or small group activities so that they don’t feel alone, and therefore the chances of feeling or being intimidated are less.
Interfaith Dialogue – Regularly engage in interfaith work, so that when something negative happens in the media, those with whom ties have already been made, through interfaith, can vouch for the good relations that they have with Muslims.
Civic Engagement – Likewise, cultivate a sense of community and civic engagement through volunteer work. Have the youth devote their time to programs that emphasize volunteering with people of all backgrounds, such as through soup kitchens, food banks, seniors homes and so on.
Be Proactive – Taking a calm and proactive approach is definitely the best way forward. We also need to teach students, especially the youth, that, in spite of our attempts to educate others, a situation could still turn ugly, as we have seen in the past few weeks. Racism and intolerance is on the increase, even though we are in the 21st century.
Legal Rights – Instruct students: never take the law or a situation into your own hands and involve the authorities whenever possible. Have them protect themselves from harm, by being with others, as much as possible, and knowing their rights.
Interact – Students should become more visible, get to know their peers and teachers more, if they haven’t already done so. It begins at home. Break bread and continually partner with the community. If the family is also engaging with the neighbours, not just Muslim neighbours, then it becomes easier for the youth to engage when they are out of their comfort zone, and not with their family and friends.
In the Qura’an [49:13], Allah states:
“O mankind, indeed, We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
I would love to hear your thoughts and insight on this as well;
What concerns do you as a teacher, parents, or school leader, hear from students?
What do you do in your classroom, and/or school to address the concerns of your students?