California Muslim Families Lobby for Bullying Prevention Bill

1 min
Yasmine Nayabkhil, 12, speaks before cameras and reporters in support of an anti-bullying bill at the Sacramento capitol on April 23, 2018. The Council on American-Islamic Relations organized the event.  (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

As the Supreme Court debates the constitutionality of President Trump's travel ban, which opponents believe targets Muslims, hundreds of California Muslims lobbied their lawmakers in Sacramento this week for new civil rights protections at the state level.

The families and students who converged on the state capitol say stronger protections are needed as Muslims face an increasingly hostile climate, in part fueled by Trump's rhetoric and policies, including the travel restrictions barring citizens of several Muslim-majority nations.

Harassment, bias and violence against Muslims increased by 17 percent last year, to nearly 2,600 cases nationwide, according to a new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. A third of all cases the organization documented were in California.

Participants in the annual Muslim Day on April 23 at the California Capitol pushed for several bills, including one that would require the state Department of Education to establish bullying prevention guidelines for all schools. The bill, AB 2291 by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), would also require schools to offer annual training to teachers and counselors to create a safe learning environment for Muslim students as well as LGBT, immigrant and other kids who may be subject to bullying.

Yasmine Nayabkhil, 12, a Sacramento-area student, came with her mother and sister to support Chiu's bill. She said she was picked on and called a "terrorist" in elementary school after she decided to start wearing her hijab, or head scarf. She sometimes ended the day in tears.

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"It obviously didn’t make me feel good inside. It made me feel really hurt, especially since I’ve known these kids in my class for over five years," she said.

Nayabkhil said when she complained, she was taken aback to have her teacher ask her to "justify" before the class why she wore the hijab.

Shad Alnashashibi, 15, said she faced similar harassment in public school.

"I did get my hijab pulled off a few times, and to them it’s just pulling off a headscarf, but to us it’s pulling off our identity," said Alnashashibi, who now attends an Islamic school. "To them it’s nothing, but to us it’s almost everything."

Syeda Aisha Balkhi, 11, and brother Syed Waris Balkhi, 7, from Los Angeles, take a break from lobbying lawmakers as dad Aijaz (in black) chats with a friend on April 23, 2018.

Hussam Ayloush, who directs the CAIR's Los Angeles chapter, said President Trump’s travel ban has contributed to a climate of intolerance because the policy reinforces negative stereotypes of Muslims.

"It elevates the fear of Muslims in America, leading some, unfortunately, to take it to the next level where they feel it’s their patriotic duty to make a Muslim feel uncomfortable in this country," even if they are U.S.-born, said Ayloush.

The travel ban, now in its third iteration, initially barred entry to the U.S. by citizens of six majority-Muslim countries plus North Korea, and government officials from Venezuela. The administration says the indefinite travel restrictions improve national security. They argue the policy was crafted after a careful multi-agency review that found the targeted countries are unable or unwilling to share necessary security information about potential travelers.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the ban amounts to unconstitutional religious discrimination and whether the president overstepped his authority under immigration law. The court is expected to rule by the end of June.

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