CAIRO - Struggling to practice their faith inside public schools, a growing number of American Muslim students are complaining that the demands of their faith are not well-understood in American society, giving them a hard time in primary and secondary schools.
"I was the only Muslim at my (elementary) school," Andaleeb Rahman, a student at the University of Virginia studying biochemistry and psychology, told Desert News on Friday, February 24.
Rahman, an observant Muslim, used to attend public primary and secondary schools, where he could not perform prayers during school time.
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"We decided as a family that I would not pray when I was at school," he said.
"After school I would rush home and try to say make-up prayers."
Prayers were not the only challenge Muslim students face at public schools.
Kirin Nabi, an observant Muslim also living in Salt Lake City, had a problem at her schools which did not understand the significance of the veil she donned.
"The veil is my sacred garment," she said. "Some religious people wear their (sacred clothing) on the inside, I wear mine on the outside," she said.
Going through a difficult experience at her young age, Nabi was not prepared to let her children pass through the same challenges at US public schools.
School can be a hostile environment," she said.
"I dealt with challenges that I don't want my kids to face."
Rahman and Nabi were only examples of how public school districts around the country must grapple with questions of how to accommodate Muslim students, whether by providing places for prayer, halal food in cafeterias and scheduling around important Muslim holidays.
Although most Americans defend religious freedom as a foundational principle, many admit to being uncomfortable with Islam, according to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center.
While 38 percent of those surveyed said they had an unfavorable opinion of Islam, more than half of Americans said they did not know very much about Islam.
This discomfort with Islam was basically related to lacking proper information about this faith.
Lack of understanding and apprehension about the Islamic faith "makes (educators) ill-prepared to effectively work with the differences Muslim students bring to the classroom," said Katerine Bruna, professor of multicultural education at Iowa State University.
Opposition rising voices of the importance of accommodating Muslim students, some argue that such a step amounts to preferential treatment by the state.
"If you start carving out the time in the school day that you would not do but for the need to let students pray, then it begins to look like you are trying to assist religion," David Blair-Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in San Deigo, told Desert News.
Daniel Pipes, founder of the conservative Middle East Forum, took things a step further saying, "the goal of Islamists is the application of Islamic law."
But protecting the freedom of religious people to worship can't be applied selectively, argued Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
"Christians who oppose accommodations for Muslim students need to recognize that the rationale they use to oppose accommodations for Muslims students may come back to bite them," he said.
Goodrich warned that the arguments used to limit the religious expression of Muslim students may ultimately be used by those who want to limit the freedoms of Christians to express their faith in public settings.
"The justifications that are used to shut down accommodations for Muslims will be used to shut down accommodations for other groups," he said.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of seven to eight million.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, US Muslims have complained of facing discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.
An April 2011 forum, sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, warned of a growing violence by bullies against Arab, Muslim and South Asian students.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net