How to Support Muslim Students
Learn how colleges and students can better support Muslim students on and off campus. Find resources that build understanding and connection.
Published March 5, 2022
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The United States is home to 3.45 million Muslims, or followers of Islam — the world's fastest-growing religion. According to the most recent FBI data, over 13% of anti-religious hate crimes are committed against Muslims.
Support of Muslim students at colleges and universities is critical. Academic and social structures must honor students' well-being alongside their academic goals.
Muslim Students Feel Unsafe and Unsupported
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, religious-based hate crimes on college campuses nearly doubled between 2009 and 2017. The increase is largely attributed to anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish crimes. The 2015 murders of three Muslim college students showcase the dangerous level of Islamophobia in the country.
Muslim students report increasing noncriminal hate incidents — verbal slurs, hate speech, offensive materials shared — on and off campus. Hate incidents often go unreported or are inaccurately labeled in government statistics, leaving communities to misunderstand or underestimate the level of discrimination against Muslims.
According to the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS), 58% of Muslim students somewhat or strongly agreed that their campus is welcoming of religious diversity. This means many other Muslim students may feel unsupported on campus.
And nearly 25% of Muslim students do not feel their religious holidays were accommodated by faculty and staff. Islamic holidays are not U.S. federal holidays, requiring students to seek accommodations from faculty to participate in services and celebrations.
The lack of diversity education for students and staff reduces opportunities for understanding, inclusivity, and overall support. Seventy percent of college students support "bridging religious divides." However, only about 30% of students said they built the skills needed to understand and connect with diverse groups of people, according to the IDEALS survey.
How Can Colleges and Universities Better Support Muslim Students?
Mandate religious diversity education
Educating students and faculty on religious diversity can help improve inclusivity. According to an IDEALS survey, less than half of students learned about religious diversity during required campus experiences. Mandatory general education courses on religion, diversity and inclusion trainings, and interfaith dialogues can help promote the understanding and support of Muslim students.
Teach about hate crimes and Islamophobia
Campus communities can learn to identify, understand, and avoid bias through direct learning. Acknowledge the existence of Islamophobia, hate crimes, and hate incidents on college campuses. Explicitly teaching students the definition and scope of hate crimes, hate incidents, and Islamophobia can help reduce their occurrences.
Expand diversity efforts to include Muslim teachers, faculty, and staff. Uplift the perspectives of Muslim staff members who offer improvements for campus support of Muslim students. Develop mentorship programs between Muslim faculty and students as a way to boost confidence and provide supportive guidance.
Create interfaith spaces
Establish spaces where students can safely take part in religious practices. Designated locations should welcome students of all religious affiliations. Offer interfaith programs and open conversations that advance learning and connection. Discuss interfaith spaces and welcoming policies on campus diversity materials to highlight an avenue of support.
Develop inclusive dining plans
Ensure that dining hall policies support the dietary needs of Muslim students. Provide descriptive ingredient labels, so students can avoid foods like pork and alcohol used in cooking, and allow students to leave dining halls with meals during holidays like Ramadan.
How Can Fellow Students Support Muslim Students?
Learn about Islam and Muslim culture
According to IDEALS, only 46% of students set aside time to learn about Muslims while in college. Understanding Islam increases opportunities to understand Muslim peers.
Participate in interfaith experiences
Campus- and community-led interfaith experiences offer guided conversation and inclusive learning opportunities. Participate in interfaith dialogues and share your own religious beliefs and experiences. Taking part in interfaith activities that support religious understanding and acceptance can enhance your connection to your peers.
Allyship requires action. Learn to be someone Muslims can feel safe being around and even becoming friends with. Stand in solidarity with Muslim students by challenging Islamophobia on campus. Bring attention and awareness to Islamic holidays and the need to observe and honor their importance. Demand action from campus administration to increase inclusivity on campus. Ask Muslim advocates and activists what kind of support and resources they need to achieve their goals, and work to provide it.
Resources and Support Groups For Muslim Students
- Muslim Students Association National: MSA National creates campus safe spaces for Muslim students through individual chapters located at colleges and universities around the country.
- Muslim Advocates: Working to end bigotry, Muslim Advocates pushes for equal representation of American Muslims in policymaking and public discourse. Their anti-discrimination platforms provide information and resources that support religious freedom.
- Know Your Rights: The American Civil Liberties Union offers legal guidance on the right to express religious beliefs without discrimination. Their site also provides guidelines on how to proceed if your rights are violated.
- Muslim Public Affairs Council: MPAC increases awareness and understanding of policies that impact American Muslims. The nonprofit offers internships and leadership programs for Muslim students.
- Institute for Muslim Mental Health: IMMH offers mental health resources and student mentorship opportunities. The organization also conducts research and provides training to mental health professionals in support of Muslim students.
- Council on American-Islamic Relations: CAIR is an advocacy group focused on protecting the civil rights of American Muslims. CAIR provides students with education, internships, and research-based information.
- Office for Civil Rights: The U.S. Department of Education outlines protections against religious discrimination and provides resources on upholding religious civil rights.
- Network Against Islamophobia: Jewish Voice for Peace facilitates learning and combats Islamophobia through curated training modules and articles.
- Stones to Bridges: Stones to Bridges hosts a platform for Muslim youths to ask anonymous questions. Muslim counselors and youths respond to submissions through blog posts.
- Muslim chaplains: Campus chaplains provide faith-based guidance to students. While relatively new in the United States, Muslim chaplains offer necessary support to students throughout their college experiences.
- Local mosques: If you are a Muslim student, finding a place of worship near your college campus can provide connection and community. Establishing connections with other Muslims can enhance a sense of belonging and togetherness for students away from home. If you are not a Muslim student, you may be able to learn more about Islam and what the Muslim community in your area needs to be supported.
Inclusive college campuses support students of all backgrounds throughout their college experience. Muslim students require intentional support from institutions to counteract Islamophobia and hate crimes. Support Muslim students' academic pursuits, individual well-being, and societal contributions on and off campus.
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