Aisha Sultan, an American Muslim reared in Houston, had grown tired of a fellow middle school student who teased her about her mother’s traditional Muslim hair covering. The boy called her mother “raghead” or “diaperhead,” and insisted her family “go back where they came from.”

Sultan is a reporter for the Post-Dispatch, and she described her childhood experience last week at a forum held by the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis. She said she learned a valuable lesson after going to the school’s counselor for help.

“‘There are people who are just not going to like you,'” she recalled the counselor telling her. “‘You have to learn to deal with it.'”

Sultan realized, for the first time, that her faith could be the object of ridicule and misunderstanding. She also realized something about the counselor and the boy who called her names. “I don’t think either of them had ever met a Muslim before, and I had never faced religious intolerance before,” said Sultan, who was one of the three Muslims attending a high school of 3,000 students.

But she followed her counselor’s advice. “I don’t really get stung by slurs … those are slingshots of the ignorant,” she said.

The Press Club organized a panel to discuss racism, sexism and religious prejudice in our society. Among other issues, organizers wanted panelists, which included Sultan and myself, to expound on the media’s role in confronting and addressing discrimination.

In a post-9/11 world, with so much “propaganda, fear-mongering and purposeful distortion,” Sultan says, raising her kids (ages 2 and 4), “is a lot scarier.”

She’s not the only Muslim in this country with such worries. A large segment of American Muslim voters feels levels of alienation, surveys suggest. When asked if they felt they were profiled or discriminated against, 43 percent answered affirmatively, according to a report released last year from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And 55 percent feel the war on terrorism has become a war on Islam.


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