Every day after school, Lulu Abdel Fattah rolls out a gold and red rug and kneels to say her prayers.
Ten-year-old Lulu faces away from the cartoons on TV at her Kingsburg home and whispers the Dhuhr prayer – the second of five daily prayers recited by practicing Muslims.
Monday was a big day – it was the first time she wore her hijab to school. While she is used to wearing the headscarf to the mosque on the weekends, her parents, Ribhi Abdel Fattah and Amanda Jiminez, had pushed her to start wearing it more. When she is older it will be a permanent part of her wardrobe.
While they were worried about how the other students at Reagan Elementary School would react, it was the teachers who gave concern. According to Lulu, two teachers singled her out for wearing her hijab: one scolded her for adjusting it too much, and another referred to her as “scarf girl” in class.
“I realized, OK, they’re doing this to be mean, and I’m disappointed because they’re adults. They should know better,” Lulu said. “I feel like when you say things like that, that you’re taking all the things from the news, and what’s happening right now, and saying, ‘She’s Muslim, and all Muslims are terrorists, so I’m just going to take it out on her.’ ”
Lulu’s parents have met with school administrators, and Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District Superintendent Wes Sever said an investigation is being conducted, but he would not discuss details.
“(The district) respects each student’s individual right to freedom of religious practice. Staff members are sensitive to their obligation not to interfere with any student’s religious practice,” Sever said in a statement. “Kingsburg is a diverse community and takes pride in the various religions and cultures that bring strength to our educational environment.”
Kingsburg is a diverse community and takes pride in the various religions and cultures that bring strength to our educational environment.
Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District Superintendent Wes Sever
Ribhi Abdel Fattah pointed to recent terrorist attacks that have perpetuated anti-Islam sentiment, like the San Bernardino shooting, and said he hopes Lulu’s story will spread awareness and help other children.
“What happened is like saying, ‘Hey, black kid,’ ” he said. “I want to sit down with these teachers and ask them why and what they meant by it. Why didn’t they call her by her name?”
Jiminez said deep down, she didn’t think Lulu would experience something like this so young, at least not from adults. Jiminez did not grow up Muslim, but converted when she met her husband.
“I didn’t think we would ever go through this – not here,” Jiminez said. “She sees the news. She sees Donald Trump. She asks, ‘Mom, why do people hate Muslims?’ But we thought she wouldn’t be affected by what’s going on with the rest of the world.”
Roger Bonakdar, the family’s attorney, said they have no intentions of pressing charges, but have called on him to help communicate with school leaders.
“We’re just hoping the school takes reasonable steps to ensure neither Lulu or another kid gets singled out in such a manner,” Bonakdar said. “They’re just pretty rattled by it. You live yourself, and you don’t experience any direct discrimination or being treated differently from those around you, and then the first day your kid has any outward expression of her faith at school, she gets picked on by an authority figure.”
Lulu says some good things happened on Monday, too, though. Her friends asked a lot of questions about her faith.
“They were really interested, and I was really happy to explain how awesome it is,” she said. “I know a lot of people think I’m weird because of it, so I was happy someone was actually interested. Some (questions) I couldn’t answer because I don’t know everything, but some I could, and I told them I’d ask about the questions I didn’t know and I’d get back to them as soon as possible.”
An answer she did know: How long will she have to wear her hijab?
“Forever,” she said, stretching her arms out wide.