Nagla Bedir and Luma Hasan, both social studies teachers in New Jersey, co-founded Teaching While Muslim to help address some of the challenges and frustrations they experienced as students growing up as Muslim Americans.
Trying to articulate a complex identity when faced with peers and educators who have a limited understanding of what it means to be Muslim often left Nagla and Luma on the defensive, responding to micro-aggressive questions and bigoted accusations that would not be necessary if school curricula were fully inclusive. Now as educators, they are driving the change to address this lack of inclusion. The Teaching While Muslim site is a space intended to deepen understanding of the complicated identities of Muslims in the United States, including the diverse experiences of Muslim educators. It is also a platform for resources and tools.
Bedir and Hasan took a few minutes to talk about their efforts and where they see their work headed.
What prompted you to start this effort?
As negative experiences in our workplace directly related to our identities increased, we decided it was time to address these issues head on. There is a lack of resources, training and support available to Muslim educators, so we began to give workshops at our local conferences to help promote understanding and prevent and address more negative experiences in schools. We want to create a more fully representative conversation within the education system for students, teachers, and families.
What do you think educators need most urgently right now?
Educators require a redefinition of what it means to integrate social justice into the curriculum and the resources, training and support that will allow them to bring it into their classrooms. The concept of “neutrality,” is not only unsatisfactory but damaging. Identities are political, as are the books we read, the history we analyze and the environment of our schools. Classrooms need to reflect the level of equity we hope to create within society.
How can your union support educators to combat Islamophobia and institutional racism?
Be intentional in the type of professional development educators are offered, and who leads these workshops. It is important that legitimate and reliable resources are provided to educators and that the presenters are a reflection of the issues that are being discussed.
What are your key areas of focus in this work?
Our main focus is to create a space for ourselves as Muslim educators in the education world. The Muslim identity is often left out of spaces where “diversity” is discussed. We created a blog that amplifies the voices of public school Muslim educators, Muslim students that attend the public schools and Muslim parents that have children in the public schools.
In addition we provide resources for educators who wish to be more culturally responsive, anti-Islamophobic, and anti-racist, and we have workshops for organizations and schools that wish to have deeper and more meaningful learning experiences about issues surrounding Muslims in the United States. We also create a safe network for Muslim educators.
What has been the reaction from educators and students?
The reaction from everyone has been heart-warming and phenomenal. We have support from people of all backgrounds, educators and students alike. Our own students have been incredibly supportive, and educators of all backgrounds have expressed the urgent need for this type of organization to exist.
Where do you think your efforts go from here?
Thus far, our effort has been mostly New Jersey-based but we are engaging educators nationally through social media as well as connections through our Teaching While Muslim team. Our dream is to expand our reach, but we’re starting at home first.