Fawzi and Hadya are twin Grade 10 students. They are new to Canada, having arrived from a primarily Muslim country a year ago. Both are happy to be in the relatively peaceful and stable environment provided by Canadian society, and though they miss their native Somalia, they are glad of the many choices and opportunities available to them in their new life. Fawzi and Hadya have always been encouraged by their parents to pursue their goals and dreams, so the family is excited about the possibilities that await them in their new life.

As newcomers, Fawzi and Hadya found it challenging to make friends and break into a social circle in their new setting. However, both have outgoing personalities and very positive attitudes and were able to make new friends from various communities and backgrounds. They settled in well to their new school, improving their English and catching up with their studies.

After much reflection, Hadya decided that she would like to start covering her head, to honour and express her respect for her Muslim background. While her parents had given her complete freedom in making this decision, she realized through much discussion and exchange with her parents and others from her community, that for her, this was an important step to take. So one day she attended school with a head covering.

The reaction from the other students was swift and surprising for both Fawzi and Hadya. One boy began teasing Hadya about her head covering, threatening to pull it off, and the girls who had become her friends suddenly grew quite cold toward her. Other boys targeted Fawzi, asking him if his father was a terrorist, if he was a member of Al Qaeda, and if he knew Osama bin Laden. Some of the students who harassed them were also from a Muslim background.

By the end of the week, both young people were upset and angry. They never dreamed that their new friends would react in such a hostile way to Hadya’s choice. One of Fawzi and Hadya’s teachers had seen the bullying. He had some concerns about Hadya’s change of dress, but at the same time he wanted to ensure that all his students lived free of bullying and violence. He approached the two students to express his concern about the bullying and discuss the situation with them.

The teacher was relieved to discover that Hadya really had freely chosen to cover her head. He was impressed and reassured by the clarity and depth with which she discussed the issue. Hadya and Fawzi admitted to their teacher that they did feel threatened and deeply offended by what had happened. Together, the three decided to approach the principal to discuss a way of ensuring that the students received sensitization training to increase their respect for ethno-cultural differences.