Written by Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D. Acknowledgments: Mariam Rasheed, MSW; Fatyma Karamoko, B.A.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of September 11th. The world mourned the loss of life and destruction of that day. It was also a pivotal moment in the history of Muslims in the U.S. and across the world. As educators, you have the responsibility of meeting the needs of all your students as they experience this anniversary. Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamic civil rights organization, usually receives a spike in complaints from students and families on anniversaries of 9/11. Some complaints involve peer-to-peer bullying, while others involve anti-Muslim content in lesson plans. In light of this, Muslim American students need your support so that they can experience a safe and welcoming classroom during this time. Students who are not of the Muslim faith also need support to learn how to interact with their Muslim peers.  

In this guide, we provide strategies for creating a welcoming climate and a healthy learning experience for all students

Process your own emotions

You may be feeling a wide range of emotions during this time. 

  • ●  Take a break – including unplugging from news and social media, and take care of yourself
  • ●  Many adults experienced trauma in the aftermath of 9/11. Try various coping strategies for yourself if you are experiencing traumatic stress. 
  • ●  Reach out to people who can help you process your thoughts and feelings. 

While you may be stressed for good reason, it is important to not pass it on to your students.

Use the opportunity to teach

Muslims experience the aftermath of 9/11 in many different ways. Some experience negative emotions (anxiety, hate) and incidents (Islamophobic acts). Others feel the need to defend Islam and counter the anti-Muslim narrative. As you teach about this topic, keep in mind that each person has had their own personal journey with the events of 9/11. Use the following resources to educate yourself as well as to build lesson plans for the anniversary. 

*Note: Make sure to center your well-being and your students’ well-being–reading or watching too much content about how 9-11 changed the world can be stressful, triggering, and re-traumatizing. 

First and foremost, check your own biases. Take the Arab-Muslim implicit bias test (click start and then scroll down to Arab-Muslim IAT).

  • ●  Educate yourself and your students on the impact of 9/11 on communities of color, including Muslim Americans. 
    • ◦  Read this review on the events set in motion post-9/11
    • ◦  Work through ISPU’s toolkit to learn about Islamophobia at the structural level (policies that were enacted at national, state, and local levels) and individual level (policies at the individual level, outside of government)
    • ◦  Refer to this resource for learning about the impact of 9/11 on Muslim communities and their responses of resilience but also depression and anxiety 
    • ◦  Read about how 9/11 caused an increase in Islamophobia 
  • ●  Build their critical thinking and civic discourse skills. 
    • ◦  Teach them how to navigate fake news and misinformation
    • ◦  Use this guide and this handout to teach them how to counter 5 myths about American Muslims Teach them how to disagree with their peers in a civil and cordial fashion 
    • ◦  Teach them to be actively engaged and responsible members of our society. 
  • ●  Build culturally responsive lessons which do not use anti-Muslim content. 
    • ◦  Do not frame the lessons as a chance to explore the definition of terrorism or a clash of two different societies/cultures
    • ◦  Try this six-step lesson plan on countering Islamophobia 
    • ◦  Incorporate unbiased resources from CAIR’s school guide (pages 4-5) to ensure that your lesson plans do not further anti-Muslim narratives and protect Muslim students from bullying.
    • ◦  Learn more about how schools can work against Islamophobia 

Create a safe space 

  • ●  Do not call on Muslim students to comment on the attacks
  • ●  Do not create educational activities that stimulate the roles of perpetrators, targets, or bystanders. 
  • ●  Avoid the following language: 
    • ◦  “Islamic terrorists,” “jihadists,” or “radical Islamic terrorists.”
      • ▪︎  This language validates the claims of the 9/11 attackers by associating their acts of mass murder with Islam and Muslims. 
    • ◦  “Terrorism” for everything. 
      • ▪︎  There is much disagreement about what terrorism means and it’s often used in a biased manner
      • ▪︎  Instead, use exact terms: white supremacist, surveillance, acts of mass violence
  • ◦  Use “the endless wars”. 
      • ▪︎  The term “endless wars” captures the Iraq, Afghanistan, and other ongoing physical wars, as well as the never-ending harm, inflicted upon innocent Black and brown people. 
      • ▪︎  It reinforces the fact that the wars abroad and at home have no clear target, and only harm Black and Brown communities. 
      • ▪︎  For more information about language, check out ReThink Media’s guide
  • ●  Avoid microaggressions:
    • ◦  “When the attacks happened, did your mosque or community make a statement?”
    • ◦  “Aren’t you mad at the terrorists for what they did?”
    • ◦  “Do you all have to go for jihad? ”
  • ◦  Do wear cultural items from Muslim countries as a show of support (e.g., scarf)

Recognize the impact on the identities of Muslim Youth

American Muslim youth constantly engage in a balancing act of all their identities: Muslim, American, culture/ethnic, gender, immigrant, and so on. In the aftermath of 9/11, these identities came under siege. Questions like “Am I American?” “Can I be Muslim in this country?” “Can I be both?” became part of the daily struggles of many Muslim youth — making the balancing act even harder. Impressively, many youth used their identities as a form of empowerment and resilience in the face of hate. As hate incidents may rise during this time, Muslim students need support with their identities so that their well-being does not get impacted. 

  • ●  Understand their various intersecting identities
  • ●  Center the narrative that Muslims are part of American history and were central to its development
  • ●  Learn about internalized racism and Islamophobia- these terms describe the phenomenon where youth believe and internalize the negative messages they see about Muslims and Islam. Examples include the following:
    • ◦  Resenting their religious practices or traditions 
    • ◦  Learning to laugh along with racist jokes
    • ◦  Adopting less “Muslim” sounding names
    • ◦  Needing to prove their American-ness
  • ●  Refer to this infographic to understand what internalized Islamophobia looks like

Countering Bullying and Bias

Nearly 40% of Muslim students were bullied at school for identifying or being perceived as Muslim (CAIR, 2019). In the upcoming days, Muslim students may experience counter expressions of bias and discrimination from peers or even other educators. Educate yourself on their experiences using the following resources:

What to do if you see expressions of hate or bias:

  • ●  Don’t let offensive behavior go by. 
  • ●  Interrupt inappropriate behavior in a positive, matter-of-fact way. 
  • ●  See the incident as a teaching opportunity.
  • ●  No shame, no blame. 
  • ●  Maintain a positive and non-judgmental tone. 
  • ●  Use strategies to reduce defensiveness.
  • ●  Listen actively. 
  • ●  Be firm in asserting that students must treat each other with respect.
  • ●  Recognize your own need for support

For more detailed information about the above strategies, check out this guide

This is not the first or last time in history that challenging events have taken place. Policies enacted after 9/11 are just the latest rendition of policies inspired by xenophobic and white-supremacist ideologies that many Black Muslims have been experiencing since the foundation of this country. Post 9/11 policies just expanded the experience to a broader population of non-Black Muslims. It is important to educate yourself further about the history of oppression and how to build resilience. We highly recommend Sapelo Square, an online forum that places Black Muslims at the center as a place to start.

Although the events of 9-11 and its aftermath are associated with painful memories of loss and trauma, frustration, and anxiety, it was also a time of resilience and thriving for all Americans. Individuals from all walks of faith came together to spread the message of unity and to counter prejudice and bias. As educators, this is a teachable and character-building moment to reinforce within ourselves and within our students the resilience and growth of our country.

9/11 Anniversary Response Guide For Educators