Schools should not stifle innovation with bigotry

Khadija Saifullah

Dressed in a NASA T-shirt and typical thick-rimmed engineer glasses, Ahmed Mohamed, a freshman from MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, excitedly showed off his home-invented clock to his engineering teacher only to be arrested and falsely accused of his invention being a bomb.

This type of incident is all too familiar with American Muslims; any of us can relate to an incident of being discriminated against because of religion — even in the slightest matter.
“The situation hit home for me because it reminded me of when in high school someone’s phone’s alarm went off, and everyone’s first response was to turn towards me,” business honors program sophomore Nazifa Mim said. “Imagine what that does to students; it simply fosters fear and even hatred.”

When young students grow up with this fear of discrimination embedded in their minds, it does nothing but limit their love for learning and expressing their talents and ideas. The same educational system that should be nurturing Mohamed’s talents is destroying them.

Mohamed’s story hit home for many in society who saw the epitome of a talented and gifted student arrested whose only crime was his name.

The news traveled like wildfire, with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed trending on Twitter with 80,000 tweets in under an hour.

Renowned figures, such as President Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, joined the bandwagon and invited him to their respective offices. In just under 24 hours, his dream school, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invited him to enroll, and the tables turned in his favor.

“This isn’t my first invention, and it won’t be my last invention,” Mohamed said Sept. 17 in an appearance on Good Morning America.

The response to the young and gifted 14-year-old was not an isolated incident of the double standard toward Muslims in America. This year alone, state Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) intruded on Muslim Capitol Day, the Houston Quba Islamic Institute was set on fire, three University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill students were shot execution-style in their own apartment, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump failed to correct his supporter that advocated “getting rid” of Muslims and his competitor Ben Carson stated that Muslims are not qualified to be president.

Mohamed’s story is only the discernable tip of a covert iceberg of prejudice and discrimination faced by American Muslims. There are many other “Ahmeds” in the silent corners of Texas and elsewhere, who, in the current climate of discrimination, have been sidelined because of their faith.

The normalization of unjust treatment toward a particular group is what leads to the inevitable alienation of that group in their own homes. Every child should be able to grow without fear of having their ideas criminalized. I hope that the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed will result in a lesson to promote curiosity and innovation among young scientists while taking a stance against all forms of bigotry.

Saifullah is a neuroscience sophomore from Richardson. Follow her on Twitter @coolstorysunao.