Mohammed Zubi: Teacher suspended for calling Muslim student ‘terrorist’

School district is probing the incident after Mohammed Zubi accused teacher of calling him 'terrorist', prompting him to stop attending classes


                            Mohammed Zubi: Teacher suspended for calling Muslim student ‘terrorist’
A view of the Ridgefield Memorial High School in Ridgefield, New Jersey (Ridgefield Memorial High School/Twitter)

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan became the first American to use the phrase, "There will be no negotiations with terrorists of any kind." Since then, it's been co-opted by several of his successors and made its way to numerous TV shows and films. In late October, it was also used by one New Jersey teacher, who has now been suspended pending investigation. Mohammed Zubi, a student of Ridgefield Memorial High School, claims his math teacher used the phrase when he asked if he could complete his assignment at home.

Separately, in February 2020, one New York school forced a student to watch his friends eating, while he was fasting for Ramadan. The same month, a woman was denied entry to a Sydney pub unless she removed her hijab. In late 2019, a Portland woman tore a hijab off an exchange student's head and rubbed it against her genitals. 

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Zubi has been left so scarred by the incident, he has since refused to go back to school. His allegations have been backed up by some of his classmates, who confirmed they heard the teacher racially target him. The school has so far refused to comment on the matter, but it has put up a statement on its website from the Ridgefield School District. 

Ridgefield Memorial High School student Mohammed Zubi. (Change.org)

'There's people laughing... and in shock'

Speaking to ABC7, Zubi recounted the incident which has promoted him to isolate himself from his peers. He claims he asked his teacher if he could complete his assignment at home, and in response, the teacher quipped, "we don't negotiate with terrorists". "I look around in shock, there's people laughing, and there's other people in shock, and I turn around and ask my friend, 'did he really just say that?' and she said yes," Zubi said. 

One eyewitness, Vuk Tomasese confirmed that incident, saying, "The teacher got close to him and said 'we don't negotiate with terrorists,' knowing that Mohammed is Arabic and Muslim." Since the incident on October 19, Zubi has not returned to school and says "I don't feel like going back, I'm really uncomfortable. I don't want to see anyone, and I've been in my room all day -- don't want to see my friends, especially after what that teacher said to me." The teacher responsible for the comment has not been identified by the school district, although some on social media have named him, and with calls for his resignation.

Even more shocking is the fact that Zubi and his family are well-known to the school. The 17-year-old is the captain of the school's soccer team, and his brother Anas is a graduate of the school. Zubi's mother also previously worked at the school, but neither of them appeared to have experienced such hate first hand. "To see my little brother, a minority, 17 years old, to hear a comment like that, you know, it broke my heart," Anas said. He has also started a Change.org petition to have the teacher fired, which at the time of reporting has garnered 390 signatures with a target of 500.

The statement published by the Ridgefield School District in response to the story. (Ridgefield Memorial High website)

In response, the school district said it "cannot legally comment on personnel or student matters, the public should be aware that the District immediately suspended the staff member while it is conducting a full investigation." It added that "The District fully intends to pursue any and all legal remedies against the staff member as any discriminatory conduct has absolutely no place in our District." 

On October 25, Zubi returned to school and said he wanted a "public apology". CNN reported that law enforcement was looped in, but have since referred the case back to the "original agency" because they "did not find any crime associated with the incident." The local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has also stepped in and offered diversity training for the staff. Executive Director Selaedin Maksut told CNN, "Education around Islam and Muslims for educators is necessary because even 20 years after 9/11 these ugly stereotypes continue to show up in our classroom, and that's unacceptable."

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