Muslim students stay home amid fears of anti-Islamic backlash

21st September 2001 at 01:00
In the United States schools struggle to cope with losses among staff, pupils and parents after terrorist attacks last week

FearING revenge after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, dozens of privately-run Muslim schools in the New York area closed and sent their students home last week.

"I was relieved we closed," says Singapore-born Rogayah Taman, a teacher at Al-Ghazaly Islamic school in Jersey City, New Jersey, which is almost directly across the Hudson River from where the twin towers used to be.

With students in blue and white uniform streaming into the huge red-brick school building on Monday morning, she said: "I am telling the children not to be afraid and that Muslims also were in those buildings."

That message has given comfort to many students who were unhappy with the way Muslims were portrayed on television. Amro El-Adle, aged 10, a lively sixth-grader whose parents are from Egypt, said he and his classmates want the same things as other American children. "I want to get good grades and I want to play with my computer," he said.

"I didn't want to leave school and I wasn't afraid to come to school, even though some of my friends called and said their parents would not let them come back."

Many parents are choosing not to return their children to Muslim schools such as Al-Ghazaly, fearing they are an easy target for revenge. Almost 20 per cent of the school's students did not attend school on Monday.

At a heated meeting on Sunday, Egyptian-born principal Ishmael Khalil said angry parents demanded to know what safeguards existed for their children. He admitted that girls in traditional Islamic dress had been harassed on their way home from school last week.

Jersey City police have agreed to station a car outside the school in the morning and in the afternoon, Mr Khalil said. "I don't think this is the beginning of problems for our schools. I think we will be all right."

Across the river in New York, police cars were positioned around the city's largest mosque - three miles north of the World Trade Center - by Sunday.

But young people who had come to study the Koran said they were taking the anti-Islamic taunts directed at them with a grain of salt.

"I haven't been abused or anything," explained 16-year-old Adam Hussein - a state-school pupil who said he is as comfortable with MTV as with the Koran. "I live my life, you know. Small kids say stuff, like 'your father did this or did that'. It doesn't affect me."

But teachers such as Sister Magda have taken the events very much to heart. "We say to the children that the Muslim people who did it have nothing to do with Islam.

"This does not affect Americans alone. It affects us more because some people who look like us did it."

Leslie Goffe

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