Many parents know the feeling of a child asking a difficult question they’re not prepared to answer. But for many Muslim parents, those questions are increasingly fearful and focused on Donald Trump and the presidential race.
“I have kids coming in asking, ‘Is Trump going to exile us?'” said Dr. Azmaira Maker, a San Diego psychologist.
Muslim children throughout the country are expressing fear amid fiery campaign rhetoric, say therapists and community leaders.
Maker said questions crop up everywhere, from her office to dinner parties. An eighth-grader wanted to change his name, she recalled, calling it “a terrorist name.” Another child, after seeing a campaign rally on television, asked if the family would be deported. Still others worry whether the election results will mean they can’t see relatives who live abroad, such as grandparents.
“It’s one thing as an adult. You hear all this hatred and maybe you can put it in context,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the national Council On American-Islamic Relations. “But imagine what it’s doing to a young Muslim child.”
Bullying of Muslim children is not new — in a sobering CAIR study, nearly half of California students reported being bullied for their faith. But many said as the campaign of Republican candidate Trump grows, so do their sons’ and daughters’ questions. Trump has suggested banning Muslims from the country, and most recently stacked up wins on Super Tuesday.
Those examples, he said, were on his mind just from the past few days.
“Every day American Muslims are hearing this and experiencing this, and that is obviously being translated into the experience of their children,” he said.
Compounding the difficulty of answering these adult-size questions is the fact that many parents also feel fear. A Super Tuesday poll by CAIR revealed Islamophobia is the No. 1 concern for Muslim voters.
“The level of fear and apprehension in the American Muslim community has never been higher,” Hooper said. “Even after 9/11, it wasn’t at this level.”
Then, he said, anti-Muslim sentiment seemed to stay in the fringes. Now, he said, anti-Muslim statements are blasted across headlines by public figures. This amplifies the sentiment, and stress.
As any parent knows, best efforts to shield children from harmful, hurtful things can fall short.
Even if moms and dads can monitor television or headlines, they can’t control chatter on the playground. Negative sentiments seep from recess into sleepless nights next to stuffed animals.
A recent paper in the Journal of the Student National Medical Association showed concern over a new generation of young Muslims “who have lived lives bathed with near chronic stress.”
Parents respond in different ways. Some limit television, or try to keep discussions to rooms beyond children’s ears.
Laith Saud, an Iraqi immigrant who grew up in Indiana during the Gulf War, teaches his daughter, who is 14, to exude confidence.
Her experience in a predominantly white, Protestant school has largely been positive, he said. Saud, who lives in Hyde Park and teaches Religious Studies at DePaul University, doesn’t guard her from headlines.
“We don’t try to evade this, but we don’t indulge in it either,” he said. “We tackle that challenge with confidence and a sense of entitlement that we belong here. We’re not asking anybody to belong. We do belong.”