Seventeen-year-old Juwairiah Syed is just one of nearly half of Muslim students in California who feel they have been victims of biased-based bullying.
According to a new report from the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 50 percent of Muslim students have had mean comments said to them or rumors spread about them because of their religion.
"The one major instance I felt absolutely targeted for being Muslim was after Osama Bin Laden was killed. I remember actually being scared to go to school the next day," said Juwairiah, a senior at Palos Verdes High School. "A group of guys started making jokes about the death and I said I didn't want to comment about it, and one of the kids said, 'Oh, I'm sorry for the death in your family. He was your uncle, right?"
CAIR officials found that many Muslim students who experienced this form of bullying stay quiet about the experience, and some are unaware that these comments are considered a form of bullying.
"We are hopeful that this report and these efforts will help to raise awareness of the issue and encourage youth and their parents to come forward and assert their rights if they too are subject to bullying," said Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of CAIR San Francisco Bay Area.
The report surveyed 471 Muslim students in California, ranging in age from 11 to 18.
Twenty-one percent of those surveyed said they had experienced cyberbullying because of religion, whether through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, text messaging, or email. Meanwhile, 10 percent of students said they even experienced physical bullying, such as slapping, kicking, or punching.
Of the students bullied, about two-thirds reported the incident to school officials. Only half of those felt that reporting it solved the problem.
"Particularly in places where youth should feel safe and free to learn, even one incident of bullying is far too many," Billoo said.
Juwairiah says that she feels fortunate that she hasn’t experienced much bullying, despite being one of only a handful of Muslims at her school.
"Most of the students are more open-minded towards Islam, but I feel as though it may be more towards me than towards the general population of Muslims,” Juwairiah said.
Sixty percent of those surveyed were Muslim females, like Juwairiah. Some wear hijab, the Islamic headscarf for women. According to the CAIR report, nearly one in five of those who wear hijab say they have been harassed because of the head covering.
Juwairiah does not wear hijab, but she says she hopes to start once she enters college.
"I have wanted to wear the hijab during my time in high school, but the reason for me, sadly, is that I do not feel I could handle the reactions from the kids around me," Juwairiah said. "I have struggled with wanting to wear hijab and feeling worried about the questions of why I would wear it now, and not before. I hope to wear it when I start college, because it'll be a fresh start."
The full report, titled "Growing in Faith: California Muslim Youth Experiences with Bullying, Harassment and Religious Accommodation in Schools," can be found on the CAIR website.