Are all Muslims terrorists? One educator’s teachable moment


by David Sheridan

It started with the inflammatory ads on the sides of buses. Millionaire Pamela Geller had purchased anti-Muslim ads for 100 city buses in San Francisco. A court ruled that for the transit authority to reject the ads would be a violation of Geller’s First Amendment right of free speech.

The ads showed pictures of ISIS atrocities and proclaimed, “It’s not Islamophobia. It’s Islamorealism.” The message was as subtle as a sledgehammer: all Muslims are Jihadist terrorists.

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Of course students saw the ads. And they brought their questions into social studies teacher Fakhra Shah’s classroom at Mission High School. She saw this as a teachable moment.

Shah knows first hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of anti-Muslim slurs and stereotyping. A Muslim who grew up in the Bay Area, she’s experienced them her whole life. The discussion she led among her students about Islam emphasized the cultural and ethnic diversity of the people around the world who practice Islam. It went well.

Then this school year came the Paris bombings and the shootings in San Bernardino. And again the question arose: Are all Muslims terrorists?

anti Islamophobia graphicSays one of Shah’s Muslim students: “My teacher facilitated a discussion about it in our class. It took away the fear. I was so moved by the respect and understanding our (school’s) Latino, Black, White, and Asian Americans showed toward Muslims.”

While most of Shah’s students seem to encounter more Islamophobia outside school than in, the bullying and harassment of Muslim students in schools across the nation has increased sharply over the last year, according to a survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Shah says the tools she has acquired to teach about racism, sexism and homophobia have proven useful in dealing with hatred of Muslims. In addition, she has developed a Lesson and Power Point specifically on Islamophobia, and has shared them with her colleagues.

She hopes other educators will find her Lesson and Power Point useful, noting the recent Mother Jones article “The Chilling Rise of Islamophobia in Our Schools.”

“There is no reason for educators to be tongue-tied when confronted with Islamophobia,” says Shah, adding: “Educators are powerful when we bring the world into our classroom, deconstruct ignorance and hate, and cultivate compassion.”

Troubled Muslim students also seek Shah out for one-on-one talks. “I create a safe place for these students. I reassure them that I do not see them as an alien. And I try to show them as much empathy and compassion as I can.”


Read Shah’s lesson outline here and her presentation here.

To access “Protecting Our Muslim Youth From Bullying,” go to .

Reader Comments

  1. Ms. Shah’s lesson takes students through a critical thinking journey that is not one-sided. She is to be commended.

  2. No Martin, not all terrorists are Muslim. There are plenty of Christian ones too right now. Just look at the shootings of the Colorado Planned Parenthood, the school and movie theater shootings, etc. All of those (and unfortunately more) were perpetrated by domestic Christian terrorists. It’s just our news isn’t reporting it as such as they want to sensationalize the Muslim terrorists to make them stand out.

  3. This brave young Muslim teacher needs all the support we can give her. To judge a whole culture of people by the acts of others in their culture, bent on hate and destruction of those who do not think like them is unconscionable. The crimes of the Nazi’s, their murder/torture of Jews has not stopped us from being friends of good Germans. Each race/culture/religion has those in it who would foment hate and the idea that everyone else is wrong, no matter their stand.
    Ms. Geller could put her million to better use…support of EDUCATION comes to mind.

    Blessings on Fakhra Shah

    1. Wygand you are terribly mistaken. It is the Muslim crime here that is underreported. You call these people ” Christian terrorists” as if they were motivated by a Christian ideology. If you don’t believe people are afraid of what could happen here in the US, you have not observed Europe at all. Go to any Muslim country and see how that goes. I am sure you will have better understanding of what Islam is about. I have been to Saudi Arabia over 39 times since 1959, lived in Paris and Tangier. After your trip you will realize that Islam and democracy are not compatible.

    2. “Ms. Geller could put her million to better use…support of EDUCATION comes to mind.” The education she offers is quite important for the survival of this country , perhaps the world! You have a French name, have you been to France lately? Many French people are scared to death. Crime is is skyrocketing in Germany, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, UK and especially France. Women are targeted most often! Islam is gays and womens worst nightmare.

  4. I would like to point out that yesterday was the Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans where were sent to prison camps during World War II. Let us please remember not to judge an entire religion, race, or nationality of people based on the acts of some. Thank you Ms. Shah for educating us on all the diversity found in Islam and the Arab world.

  5. Martin I’ve written several responses to your rant, but deleted them all. Instead I chose a simple response. I’m afraid you suffer from islamophobia, bigotry more simply put. Ignorance is rampant. I say thank god, for teachers like Ms. Khan. They provide an excellent education for our children. Our school systems nationwide need many many more of them. America’s right wing movement and politicians should be ashamed of themselves for the intentional dismantling, definancing, and dumbing down of the educational system in most areas of our nation.

  6. Well this is just BS. NO ONE has ever claimed that all Muslims are terrorists. But the converse sure seems accurate: All terrorists are Muslim. Bombing and mass shootings all over the world – and they all seem to have the Muslim idealogy behind it. There are places in London that non-Muslims do not dare travel. And in Paris. And in Michigan. I know; I’ve been to these places and seen it. There are real justifications for Islamophobia whether Shah wants to admit or not.

  7. Oh yes…. Teach about Islamaphobia, but fail to teach about Islamic anti- Christian, Jewish, non-Muslim, gay phobia. Of course, teach about how persecuted Muslims are, but fail to teach sharia law towards women, and non-Muslims and the persecution Muslims inflict on them. When non-Muslims are beheaded, burned, drowned, raped, crucified, and thrown off buildings, I don’t really have sympathy for someone that is offended by being “called” a name.

  8. Interesting that you post this, yet have never had anything about anti-Semitism, despite it being a much older and pervasive problem. Your agenda looks a little unpure and even sinister.

    1. Sharon, Muslims have been anti-Semitic since day one. Of course they are anti everything non-Muslim, often each other. If you look at Saudi Arabia, you see a country almost entirely surrounded by very sophisticated system of fences to keep people out. Although they have tent cities for the Hajj that have facilities and air conditioning, they take 0 refugees. CAIR, whom Fakhra Shah likes to use for facts, is considered a terrorist organization by many countries in the Middle East and definitely push the Muslim agenda. The Koran OBLIGATES them to lie to advance Islam.

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