Muslim sixth-grader gets death threat school

11/12/07 Seán Kinane
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An Azalea Middle School sixth-grader says another student assaulted her last week and threatened her life.

Eleven-year-old Hannah says she is the only Muslim in her school that wears a hijab, or headscarf. The Tampa Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a press conference this afternoon across from the middle school.

CAIR Executive Director Ahmed Bedier, who is also a programmer on WMNF, said that beginning on Nov. 2, Hannah had been verbally threatened and physically assaulted by a male classmate in her second-period science class.

“On a daily basis, this young boy would tug and yank at her headscarf. …”

Hannah said she complained to the principal that day at lunch, but no action was taken. Even though her teacher witnessed the boy pulling off Hannah’s hijab, she would not let Hannah move her seat so that she would not have to sit next to the boy the following day.

Bedier said the harassment and threats escalated.

Hannah’s parents, Maria and Mourad, phoned the school to get them to respond. The school called back on Friday but Bedier says they did not contact the police regarding the death threat or the boy’s threat to bring a gun to campus. Hannah did not feel safe enough to go to school on Monday and said she wants to change to another public school with more Muslims, like Pinellas Park Middle.

“I feel so afraid that I should just switch schools, because now I start crying. I get very scared that he’s going to come and kill me one, as he said, because he said ‘no matter what, I’m going to come and kill you.’”

The principal phoned both parents on Friday morning, but Hannah’s mother Maria said she was not satisfied that the issue had been resolved. Maria said she wishes the school would take the threat of gun violence seriously.

Bedier and the family do not fault the boy as much as the administration of Azalea Middle School and the Pinellas school system.

“Because of the school officials’ inaction, or lack of action, it gave him [male student] the somehow message that it’s okay and you can continue. In fact, one of the things that she [Hannah] forgot to mention was before he started making the gun threat on Thursday, he told her ‘the Vice Principal doesn’t care about your complaint.’ So the boy knew that she complained to the Vice Principal. He said ‘he doesn’t care about your complaint and nothing’s going to happen to me.’ And then he started saying what he’s going to do to her. So it’s more of a retaliation at that point. Because he, from what we see, the message he got from school officials is ‘it’s not a big deal.’”

Because the school system has not taken action, Bedier said that he helped the family file a police complaint.

Hannah said she wears a hijab, even though it draws attention to her being a Muslim, because of her Islamic faith.

“I wore the headscarf because I love my faith and I believe, and it was my choice. … My Mom is my role model and she teaches me to put the scarf on. She teaches me to be a good Muslim, too.”

Pinellas County Schools did not return WMNF's call by airtime.

Photo caption: From left, Mourad, Hannah, Ahmed Bedier, and Maria address the media on Monday across from Azalea Middle School.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

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