Are you a Muslim who’s being bullied in your school, workplace or neighbourhood? I’d like to be of help.
It’s become increasingly uncomfortable to be Muslim in recent years. In the past, people might have picked on Muslims because they dress differently or their religion seems strange. Now, with the never-ending flow of news of terrorism committed by radical Muslims and of the actions of the Islamic State (ISIS), people are much more likely to pick on you because of hatred and fear of Muslims – “Islamophobia.”
I know what you are going through. As a Jew, I belong to the most hated group in history. My father’s entire family was wiped out during World War II, and my mother’s family suffered horribly, too, just for being Jewish.
When I was growing up in New York in the 1950s and 60s, it was common for kids to curse us, throw rocks at us and beat us up. In fact, we saw it as completely normal. You couldn’t expect to walk around with a yarmulke (Jewish skull cap) in public without getting taunted or assaulted by Christian kids. In recent years, hatred of Jews has again become very common, and many Jews are afraid to wear clothing or jewellery that identifies them as Jews. So Muslims and Jews today are in the same boat.
As bad as bullying might seem to you today, it was a lot worse when I was growing up. Fights were much more common, and kids knew they had to deal with each other without the help of adults. The media didn’t consider routine stories of kids being beaten up to be newsworthy.
When I grew up and became a school psychologist, I discovered how common bullying is in school, so I began teaching kids how to handle it on their own. I have taught thousands of people how to quickly and easily stop being bullied and I want to share this knowledge with you, too. In fact, you will be able to turn many bullying situations into opportunities to increase people’s understanding and appreciation of Muslims.
Hatred is in human nature
You might have expected me to develop bitterness towards the world because of the way it treated Jews, but I didn’t. I simply grew up realizing that people are not angels and they love to have someone to hate. As the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.”
You may have noticed that hatred towards Muslims comes not only from non-Muslims, but also from other Muslims. In Syria alone, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been killed by rival Muslim factions. And hatred isn’t limited to religious groups. If you follow politics, you know how common it is for liberals to hate conservatives and vice versa. Even fans of different sports teams can hate each other. And everyone just loves to hate “bullies.”
Recognizing the commonness of hatred will make it easier for you to handle being bullied. If you think hatred is something incredibly horrible and rare, you will get extremely upset when someone express hatred of Muslims. And if you get upset, they will never stop picking on you. On the other hand, if you realize that hatred is normal, it won’t upset you as much, and it will be easier for you to respond effectively.
The difference between bullying and crime
Before I continue, it is important to understand what is meant by “bullying.” Today, this word has come to include all mean behaviour, from eye rolling to murder. This is not helpful. Murdering someone is very different from rolling your eyes when they say something stupid.
There are mean acts that are defined as “crimes.” Crimes are acts that cause objective harm to people’s bodies or property, or deny them liberty. The list includes acts like theft, vandalism, rape, assault and battery, slander/libel and murder. It means that if you do them to me and I get hurt, you are the one who hurt me. I can call the police on you, sue you in court, and get you punished.
There acts that are mean, but they aren’t crimes and the police won’t arrest you for doing them. They cause subjective harm. It means that my attitude determines whether they hurt me. Rather than hurting our bodies or property, they tend to hurt our feelings. Common examples are insults, criticism, blaming, and refusing to be someone’s friend. If you do them to me and I feel hurt, the truth is that I hurt myself. If I didn’t believe that what you did to me was terrible, it wouldn’t have bothered me much. In fact, with the right frame of mind, it might even have made me appreciative.
Most bullying is not criminal behaviour. If you are being bullied for being Muslim, what it probably means is that you are a frequent target of insults, mean rumours, nasty looks or exclusion from groups. In other words, people are hurting your feelings. If you’re a kid, maybe you’re also getting pushed around or hit every once in a while, but you aren’t being injured; you don’t need to go to the nurse’s office or the emergency room.
If kids destroy your belongings or beat you up because you are Muslim, don’t think of it as bullying. They are criminal behaviours called vandalism and assault and battery, Tell the school authorities or the police so they can apprehend and punish whoever hurt you. The advice in this article is only about dealing with acts that have been hurting your feelings.
Nonetheless, having your feelings hurt can be a very serious problem. It can make you absolutely miserable. You may want to stay home from school or even consider hurting yourself or others. Fortunately, because the Islamophobic acts are causing subjective harm to you, you can learn to stop being hurt by them – and thereby get people to stop doing them to you.
Where does Islamophobia come from?
Kids have been taught ever since pre-school that they aren’t allowed to bully anyone. They see anti-bullying posters pasted on the walls. Their favourite celebrities are publicly condemning bullying. So why aren’t people listening? Why are they bullying you for being Muslim?
You may think they are simply being evil, that they get pleasure from making Muslims suffer. But the real reason is that they think Muslims are dangerous. They are afraid that one day you may try to make them suffer.
All living creatures, including human beings, are biologically programmed to recognize dangers. You may think snakes are really cute animals. But once you learn that some of them can kill you with one bite or choke you to death, you will be scared of all snakes. If you see one in your house, you will certainly want to get rid of it or even kill it. This fear is necessary for our survival. If we don’t fear snakes, we may want to pick them up and play with them. Until we learn to recognize which snakes are dangerous to us and which are safe, it is wise to treat all snakes as hazardous.
Throughout human existence, just about every group had enemies that wanted to kill them. So just as people learned to recognize signs of dangerous animals, they learned to recognize signs of dangerous people. In recent years people have been getting news of radical Muslims groups committing terrible acts of terrorism; of leaders of Muslim nations calling for “Death to America! Death to Israel!”; of Muslim clerics preaching that Islam must take over the world and that anyone who criticizes Mohammed should be killed. It is therefore a normal reaction for people to see a Muslim as a potential danger. Of course the great majority of Muslims aren’t dangerous to them, but most people can’t differentiate between those that are and those that aren’t, so they react emotionally to anyone that resembles a Muslim as a potential enemy.
Therefore, if people treat you like you are dangerous, don’t blame them. They are only doing what they are biologically programmed to do to for survival. You would do the same thing if the roles were reversed. If you want to blame anyone, perhaps it should be the radical Muslims that have given Islam a bad reputation.
It is also important to understand that when kids insult Muslims, it is often without any deep-seated hatred or fear. Many kids simply pick on others who have any type of difference to see their reaction. Often, it’s a way of kidding around. If the targets handle it with good humour, they are respected and become accepted. If they get upset or angry, they look like losers, and kids will continue picking on them for the fun of seeing them get upset. It’s not nice behaviour, but human nature isn’t all that nice. But we shouldn’t arbitrarily attribute to kids malice that may not be there.
You can’t expect society to help you
In recent years, society has been trying hard to protect people – especially children – from bullying. However, these efforts have not been working well and bullying continues to be a big problem despite anti-bullying laws. If you are expecting your school or the government to stop kids from bullying you, you are likely to be disappointed.
Think about it. Let’s say there is someone that you truly don’t respect. If the school tells you that you have to respect everyone, are you going to respect that person? Of course not! In fact, not even the President can make people respect you. If the President says, “Everyone has to treat Muslims with respect,” will everyone listen to him? Anyone who fears Muslims will accuse him of endangering the country and will vote against him if he runs in the next election.
Or let’s say kids insult you for being Muslim. You tell the teacher on them, and then they get punished for bullying you. Is that going to make them like and respect you? They’ll want to beat you up for getting them punished! They’ll think you’re a baby and a snitch.
The person in the best position to make people respect you and other Muslims is you!
What is the solution?
Fortunately, the solution to bullying can be found within the teachings of your own religion. Mohammad said, “You should not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you should deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.”
This means that you must be nice to your bullies! You are to treat them like buddies.
He also said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.” This means that you are not to give in to anger when people bully you.
It is difficult to be calm and nice when people are mean to us because it is against our nature. Our brains are programmed to get angry and retaliate. That’s why we need wise people like Mohammad to teach us to rise above our natural instincts.
I will now show you how to handle Islamophobic attacks. In each scenario, I will first demonstrate the wrong (“natural”) way and then the right (“wise”) way.
When someone calls you a terrorist
The Natural Way
Insulter: You are a terrorist!
Muslim: No, I’m not!
Insulter: Of course you are! All Muslims are terrorists!
Muslim: That is not true! Islam is a religion of peace!
Insulter: Peace, ha! Was 9/11 your idea of peace?
Muslim: 9/11 was carried out by radical extremists! They weren’t true Muslims!
Insulter: Who are you kidding? They were pure Muslims from Saudi Arabia!
Muslim: People who kill in the name of Islam cannot be Muslims.
Insulter: How about Islamic State? They aren’t Muslims?
Muslim: Not real Muslims!
Insulter: Oh, yeah? They live according to the Koran. The Koran teaches to kill infidels! It’s a religion of violence!
Muslim: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Islam is a religion of peace!
Insulter: Ha! That’s the best joke I’ve ever heard!
Muslim: You’re nothing but a racist!
Insulter: No, I’m not! I’m just talking the truth!
This exchange can go on endlessly, and will only serve to entrench the insulter deeper in his Islamophobia.
Now, we’ll do it again. The Muslim will treat the insulter like a friend, and make it clear that there’s nothing unusual about him for thinking badly of Muslims.
The Wise Way
Insulter: You are a terrorist!
Muslim: You know, so many people today think that all Muslims are terrorists.
Insulter: Well, they are. Look at 9/11. All the hijackers were Muslims.
Muslim: Yes, it’s terrible what they did in the name of Islam.
Insulter: You mean you agree?
Muslim: Of course! Do you think I am happy about it?
Insulter: Sure. You’re a Muslim. Muslims believe in killing infidels.
Muslim: Some do. But they are a very small minority, and they give the rest of us a bad name.
Insulter: I don’t believe they’re a minority. Islam is a violent religion that teaches jihad.
Muslim: Yes, it does teach jihad, but there are two types of jihad. The main jihad is within ourselves, to fight the evil inclination and live according to the teachings of Mohammed.
Insulter: So you admit that you are evil!
Muslim: Islam teaches that we all have evil within us. We need to overcome it and strive to do only good.
Insulter: But the other jihad is to kill people who don’t accept Mohammed as the final prophet!
Muslim: Did you ever see me hurt anyone?
Muslim: Did you ever see any Muslim hurt anyone?
Insulter: On the news.
Insulter: Sure. But in real life?
Insulter: Well, I guess not.
Muslim: That’s because we believe in peace and love.
Insulter: Peace and love? Look what the Islamic State is doing!
Muslim: Yes, it’s absolutely barbaric! I would love to invite you over to my house and show you the Koran. You’ll be amazed at how enlightened Mohammed’s teachings are. And you’ll love my family, too.
Insulter: Well, I’ll think about it. Thanks for the invitation.
Muslim: You’re welcome! Any time!
It comes out so much better this time. By staying calm and treating the insulter like a friend, the Muslim was able to get him to become less antagonistic, to start questioning his beliefs about Muslims in general, and maybe even to want to learn more about Islam.
Getting slapped for being Muslim
No one is allowed to injure you for being a Muslim. If they do, you should report them to the authorities. But sometimes kids will slap or hit another kid. It is humiliating, but causes more harm to one’s feelings than to one’s body. How can it be handled?
The Natural Way
[Slapper slaps Muslim]
Muslim: Get your hands off me!
Slapper: You deserve it! You Muslims are destroying the world!
Muslim: No we’re not!
Slapper: Yes, you are! Everyone is now living in fear because Muslims use violence to try to take over the world!
Muslim: No, we don’t! That’s a lie!
Slapper: No, it’s not! Read the news!
Muslim: I do read the news! And it’s full of lies!
Slapper: The news doesn’t lie!
Muslim: Yes, it does! And don’t ever put your hands on me again!
Slapper: I’ll put my hands on you whenever I want. You Muslims all deserve to die!
Muslim: Shut your mouth! How dare you talk to me like that!
Slapper: You think you can stop me?
Muslim: If I have to, I will!
Slapper: Yeah? How?
Muslim: I’ll smash your face in!
Slapper: See, I knew you were violent!
Muslim: No, I’m not!
This approach, of course, leads nowhere except to a fight. Now…
The Wise Way
[Slapper slaps Muslim]
Muslim: Are you mad at me?
Slapper: Of course! You’re a Muslim!
Muslim: Why are you mad at Muslims?
Slapper: Because they are ruining the world.
Muslim: How are we doing that?
Slapper: You are using violence to take over the world and make it Muslim.
Muslim: So many people think that about us. It’s terrible.
Slapper: Well, isn’t it true?
Muslim: Some radical Muslims are trying to do that, but very few of us are radical.
Slapper: Are you?
Muslim: Do I act radical?
Slapper: I don’t know how a radical Muslim acts.
Muslim: Did I try to convert you?
Muslim: Did I hit you?
Muslim: That’s right. You are the one who did the hitting. I would have been justified in hitting you back, but I didn’t.
Slapper: Why not? Are you a wimp?
Muslim: No. But Islam taught me to treat everyone like a friend. You must have felt you have a good reason to slap me. So I asked you if you are mad at me.
Slapper: Well, I was.
Muslim: Are you still mad at me?
Slapper: I guess not.
Muslim: Good. Any time you’re mad at me, just tell me. You don’t need to slap me.
Slapper: Okay. Sorry I slapped you.
Muslim: Apology accepted.
The Natural Way
Rumour-Bringer: Sami told me that you support ISIS.
Muslim: No, I don’t!
Bringer-Bringer: But Sami is also a Muslim. If he said it about you, it must be true!
Muslim: No, it’s not! And I don’t believe Sami would say such a thing!
Bringer-Bringer: He did! And anyway, I know that all Muslims support ISIS because it means Islamic State.
Muslim: Very few of us support ISIS.
Bringer-Bringer: That’s a lie! I bet you wish our country also would also become like the Islamic State.
Muslim: No, I don’t! That’s not true!
Bringer-Bringer: Yes, it is!
This approach obviously isn’t working. Now…
The Wise Way
Bringer-Bringer: Sami told me that you support ISIS.
Muslim: Do you believe him?
Muslim: If you want to believe him, how can I stop you?
Bringer-Bringer: You can’t!
Muslim: That’s right. I can’t.
Bringer-Bringer: But it’s true, isn’t it.
Muslim: No. But if you want to believe it, I can’t stop you.
Bringer-Bringer: No, you can’t.
Muslim: That’s right.
And that’s pretty much how it ends. The rumour-bringer is left with nothing more to say.
You see, when someone brings you a rumour, they want to see you getting upset and defending yourself, saying, “It’s not true! You better not believe it!” But it’s a trap. You lose because the defensive position is the weaker one, and the rumour-bringer will continue repeating the rumour to keep you on the defensive. So instead, make bringers-bringers defend themselves by asking, “Do you believe it?” If they say, “Yes,” you say, “If you want to believe it, I can’t stop you.” You win, and they stop saying the rumour. If they say, “No,” you win even bigger. So don’t defend yourself from rumours. Ask, “Do you believe it?”
You can, if you wish, delve more deeply into the person’s beliefs by calmly asking questions like, “Why would you believe that all Muslims support ISIS?” and “Have I ever done anything to make you believe that about me?” Make them explain their illogical beliefs and after a while they should realize it’s absurd to make negative generalizations about all Muslims.
I hope these examples are enough to help you figure out how to handle the types of bullying you are facing. Treat those who express hatred toward you like friends, and slowly you will get them to give up their Islamophobia. They will see that you are truly peaceful, and may even want to become your friends.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.This article has been reproduced with permission from his blog.