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Stanford University course teaches students about Islamophobia in the US

The course, Interrogating Islamophobia, being taught for the first time at the institution, aims to "enhance the discourse surrounding Islamophobia in the US"
A cyclist rides by a map of the Stanford University campus in Stanford, California, on 12 March 2019 (AFP)

A new course being offered this fall for the first time at California's Stanford University aims to teach students how Islamophobia manifests in the United States.

The course, named Interrogating Islamophobia, is being taught by Abiya Ahmed, the associate dean and director of Stanford’s Markaz Resource Center, the student-run newspaper, The Stanford Daily, first reported. 

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Ahmed’s work examines the intersection of religion and education, with a focus on Muslims and Islam. She told Middle East Eye that the course aims to interrogate complexities around Islamophobia in the United States, both as a concept and in how it manifests. 

“This is important to do, in my view, because the more we understand a phenomenon, the better we can grasp the challenges and potential of countering it,” she said. 

“In essence, what we’re trying to do with this course is enhance the discourse surrounding Islamophobia in the US, such that students can walk away having examined the intersections and nuances associated with it.”

Currently, the course has 10 students enrolled, along with an undergraduate serving as a teaching fellow, who is co-teaching it with her.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric has long existed in the US. Muslims are five times more likely to experience police harassment because of their religion, compared to those of other faiths, a study by Rice University shows.

More specifically, Muslim adults who identify as Black, Middle Eastern, Arab, or North African are more likely than Muslims who identify as white to report that they have been harassed by the police because of their religion, according to a study published in the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Looking at schools, a survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) showed that Muslim students in California exhibited high levels of Islamophobic bullying, harassment and discrimination. 

At Stanford, there have been Islamophobic incidents as well. In 2017, anti-Muslim blogger Robert Spencer was invited to speak on campus. He mocked students who criticised him before his talk. During his speech, more than 100 students walked out.

Next semester, Ahmed is offering a different but related course called Contemporary Islam and Muslims in the US, “which takes a deeper dive into the lived experiences of Muslims in the US, addressing more closely the interplay between the theory and practice of Islam in the US and how/why Muslims negotiate religion as a minority in this country,” she explained.

She plans on offering the Islamophobia course again next fall and hopes it will become a regular feature at Stanford.

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