The Council on American-Islamic Relations is the largest American Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. CAIR’s mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil liberties, promote justice, and empower American Muslims. CAIR California is the organization’s largest and oldest chapter, with offices in the Greater Los Angeles Area, the Sacramento Valley / Central California, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
There are several key findings from the results of CAIR-CA’s 2021 survey that show that Muslim students in California continue to report high levels of Islamophobic bullying, harassment, and discrimination by both peers and adults, both in-person and online. Respondents reported that these experiences have a negative impact on their educational experience and their comfort levels at school.
47.1% of respondents reported being bullied for being Muslim in the year-and-half period prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the switch to remote learning and the decrease in in-person interactions amongst students significantly reduced reported incidents of bullying to 26.22%. Pre-pandemic rates of bullying increased by 7 percentage points when compared to CAIR-CA’s 2019 report, which evaluated the school climate for California Muslim students between 2016 and mid-2018. Our current survey results show that the decrease in in-person interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic correlated to a decrease in all forms of bullying incidents.
55.73% of all respondents reported feeling unsafe, unwelcome, or uncomfortable at school because of their Muslim identity.
This is the highest reported level since CAIR-CA began conducting its biennial surveys in 2013. Furthermore, nearly 20% of respondents reported missing school because of those feelings. This is an upward trend from the 13.76% of respondents who reported missing school in our 2019 report.
Female respondents also had their unique challenges when it came to feeling comfortable at school reported their hijab was tugged, pulled, or offensively touched.
Approximately one-third of respondents experienced or witnessed some form of cyberbullying.
During the period from August 2018 to August 2021, 29.72% of respondents reported that a student at school made offensive comments or posts about Islam or Muslims directly to them on social media. This is up from 12.19% of respondents in CAIR-CA’s 2019 report. Additionally, 35.68% responded that other students at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims in general on social media.
Nearly one in four respondents (23.50%) reported that a teacher, administrator, or other adult at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims.
Muslim students reported high levels of Islamophobic harassment and comments from teachers and other school personnel who are responsible for the well-being of these students.
Pre-pandemic, 60.81% of those who were themselves bullied reported seeing another student get bullied for being Muslim in comparison to only 21.54% of those who were not themselves bullied. This data suggests that some schools allow bullying to go unchecked thus encouraging more bullying while other schools take a more proactive approach to creating an inclusive and more welcome environment where bullying is not tolerated.
The responses to CAIR-CA’s survey suggest that Islamophobic harassment, discrimination, and bullying continue to be real issues that Muslim students face on a daily basis. These findings present insight into how educators can combat Islamophobia and bullying to ensure that Muslim students have a positive educational experience.
For example, the drop in bullying numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic provides insight into how educators can vigilantly and immediately address incidents of bullying. The decrease in unsupervised in-person interactions caused by remote learning led to a decrease in bullying in all forms. Educators and administrators who are aware of bullying incidents must immediately act to increase adult supervision of the aggressor and physically separate the bully from the victim to decrease in-person interactions.
School districts’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic proves that these systems are capable of changing their entire educational model to be more responsive to the well-being of their students. It is evident that school districts are similarly capable of being responsive to the experiences and wellbeing of Muslim students. CAIR-CA urges our schools to make the changes necessary to ensure the wellbeing of Muslim students and all vulnerable students are protected. In addition to taking immediate steps to address specific incidents of bullying, schools should conduct a thorough assessment of the school’s environment as it pertains to Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias and bullying; improving and implementing thorough anti-bullying policies and training; and implementing curriculum that is anti-racist and inclusive.
Despite the policy and legislative efforts to end bullying and its harmful effects, bullying remains a common occurrence that has disproportionately impacted Muslim students. CAIR-CA's 2021 and 2019 reports show that Muslim students have reported being bullied at more than twice the national average.6 CAIR-CA's 2019 report found that 40.04% of Muslim students who responded to that survey had been bullied for being Muslim. CAIR-CA's current 2021 report finds an upward trend of anti-Muslim bullying prior to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to pivot to remote learning. 47.1% of respondents reported being bullied for being Muslim from August 2018 to March 2020, the period immediately before schools in California switched to remote learning. Once schools turned to an online model in March 2020, the percentage of reported bullying incidents dropped significantly across all mediums of bullying. 26.22% of respondents reported being bullied at school for being Muslim from March 2020 to August 2021. Though this number is significantly high, it represents a nearly 21% drop from the over year-and-a-half time period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a decrease in inperson interactions amongst students. While many were concerned that an increase in online learning would lead to an increase in cyberbullying, our survey and other studies have shown that the lack of in-person interactions amongst students led to a decrease in bullying in all forms. This is reflective of the fact that in-person interactions are an underlying mechanism for bullying in all forms.
Survey results also showed that, regardless of the switch to remote learning in March 2020, from August 2018 to now, Muslim students reported high levels of bullying, Islamophobia, and harassment in various aspects of their school lives. 10.23% of all respondents disagreed with the statement that they felt “safe, welcome, and respected at my school.” This percentage is higher than the 8.63% of respondents who disagreed with the statement in CAIRCA’s 2019 report. Survey results also showed that from August 2018 to now, 29.72% of respondents reported that other students at their school made offensive comments or posts about Islam or Muslims aimed directly towards them on social media – a 143.81% increase from the 2019 report. Those students who reported being the victims of offensive comments about Islam or Muslims online had higher rates of feeling unsafe at school.
56.46% Female 43.01% Male 0.53% Declined
Additionally, a high percentage of respondents (23.50%) reported that a teacher, administrator, or other adult at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims. Unsurprisingly, students who reported that an adult made offensive comments about their religion also reported experiencing higher percentages of discomfort at school and missing more days of school than other survey respondents. secure online portal.8 568 responses were received, with a 92% completion rate. 43.01% of respondents identified as male, 56.46% identified as female, and 0.53% declined to identify their gender.
Respondent's Self-Identified Ethnicity
The responses to CAIR-CA's survey make it clear that schools and districts across California must take proactive steps and go beyond the minimal requirements of the law to ensure that their Muslim students are not victimized by bullying, are respected, and made to feel welcome by all the adults entrusted with the responsibility of their education and wellbeing. The survey data is indicative of the power these adults have in either making the educational experience for Muslim students a fulfilling or distressing one.
 49.77% Hijab  32.42% Beard  5.71% Thobe  5.02% Abaya  6.62% Other
strong trend toward religious or cultural visibility on campus
Furthermore, the drop in bullying numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic provides insight into how educators can be vigilant in immediately addressing and curbing incidents of bullying. The decrease in unsupervised in-person interactions caused by remote learning led to a decrease in bullying in all forms. Educators and administrators who are aware of bullying incidents must immediately act to increase adult supervision of the bully and physical separate the bully from the victim to decrease in-person interactions. Furthermore, the ability of school districts to change their entire educational model and be more in-tune with the well-being of their students due to COVID-19 shows that schools and their staff have the ability to be fully aware and responsive to the experiences and wellbeing of their Muslim students and make the changes necessary to ensure that Muslim students and all vulnerable students are protected.