As a parent of young children, I wish I never had to talk to my kids about Islamophobia. If only it didn’t exist, and that I didn’t have to taint their innocence with such an unpleasant and possibly frightening topic!
Unfortunately, my kids (and yours) are likely to face Islamophobia at some point, whether we discuss it with them or not. Recently, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported a 245% jump in reports of anti-Muslim incidents. The organization “released new civil rights data showing that it has received a ‘staggering’ 2,171 complaints over the past 57 days amid an ongoing wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate.”1
Tragically, that hate sometimes extends to Muslim children. In October of 2023, a six-year-old Palestinian American boy, Wadea Al Fayoume, was fatally stabbed 26 times for being Muslim.2 While that is the most extreme example of Islamophobia most of us can imagine, many children endure less violent (but still emotionally damaging) forms of discrimination and harassment.
It is not a pleasant topic, but if we have conversations about Islamophobia with our kids, it could help them understand what it is, why they might be facing it, and what to do about it.
But where should we begin? What is appropriate to say? Here are some tips for having a productive discussion with your kids.
1. Know what Islamophobia is.
Perhaps you’re not even sure what qualifies as Islamophobia or how to define it. According to writer Syeda Khaula Saad, “To be able to engage your kids in conversations about Islamophobia, it’s important to understand what it is. Islamophobia is a strong aversion to and animosity against Islam and its followers (known as Muslims), frequently resulting in the propagation of hateful rhetoric, acts of hatred, and societal and political bias.”3
According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “There are many factors that can heighten Islamophobia in society, including:
- When a person labeled as “Muslim” commits an act of violence, others may blame or attribute aggression and violence to all Muslims;
- When a violent or terrorist act is committed against Muslim communities, other Muslims may experience worry and fear that their community members or prayer places (masjids/mosques) may be targeted next;
- Islamophobia and rhetoric against Muslims may increase during wars and election cycles.”4
2. Get a grip on your own emotions.
According to the resource Talking With Your Children About Islamophobia and Hate-Based Violence, it is crucial to gather your thoughts and cope with your own emotions before you speak with your children. “Seek your own supports,” the NCTSN advises. “Before talking to children, take time to ensure you feel comfortable talking about the issues first. If you feel upset, make an effort to connect with other adults to help you cope with your own reactions. Hate-based violence against Muslims can lead to painful thoughts such as ‘we will always be targeted by non-Muslims’ or ‘no one really cares about Muslims suffering.’ These thoughts are not helpful for children to hear. If you are struggling with painful thoughts, seek additional support. Muslim institutions (e.g., masjids/mosques, schools, community agencies) often sponsor support groups and mobilize communities of all faiths during and after a crisis, so consult your local institution to see what may be available to help you communicate your true feelings in a way that is helpful for children.”5
3. Focus on safety.
“Let children know you will always do your best to keep them safe,” adds the NCTSN. “Let them know adults are working hard to make sure they will stay safe.
- Discuss steps that are being taken in the community or school. Some children may be comforted knowing that a person responsible for an act of hate-based violence has been arrested and is no longer an immediate danger.
- After you feel that a sense of safety has been established, you can also talk to children about things they can do to increase their safety, such as following family rules and identifying trusted adults with whom they can talk if they feel threatened by others.
- Seek community support for protecting everyone. Praying together as a family may help establish a group sense of safety and connectedness.
- Also, keep in mind acts of kindness. Highlighting specific examples of people in your community who stand up for and protect the Muslim community can also help children feel safer.”6
4. Encourage them to share their feelings and then take action.
“The most important thing is to remind your kids that if something ever feels off to them, they should feel comfortable speaking to you about it,” writes Saad. “And whether your kid is 4 years old or 14, this can be done in a way that they understand.”7
If your kids come to you with concerns, listen carefully and let them know their feelings are important and valid. If they say they have been attacked, harassed, or discriminated against, take their complaints seriously. If bullying is taking place at school, teachers and administrators must be informed; this article offers some concrete steps to take. Depending on the nature of the incident, it might be necessary to contact the police or CAIR.8
Even if “only” their feelings have been hurt, instances of Islamophobia should be taken seriously. Your kids’ feelings should always be handled with care. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, always listened gently and compassionately to children, and we should follow his example.
5. Instill Muslim pride.
The world at large will probably not bolster or celebrate kids’ Islamic identity, so it’s up to us to do it. “Through the media, Muslims are often portrayed as dangerous, oppressed, and barbaric,” writes Saad. “Remind your little ones that no matter what they might hear about Islam, they should be proud of their religion and culture. Teaching your kids to love who they are is one of the best forms of defense against a society that is determined to make them feel less than.”9 And Sound Vision has many resources that lend support here:
Adam's World Academy - online and prerecorded Islam-centered classes for children
Adam's World Videos - New and classic Adam’s World videos apply Islamic guidance to everyday life
I pray that none of our children face Islamophobia in any form. However, it is best for us parents to be proactive. Communicating with our children about this topic before they suffer any ramifications is important. The pamphlet from the NCTSN is a fantastic resource and it offers age-specific guidelines that are very helpful.
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com