BOSTON (RNS) — When a 10-year-old Muslim girl looked in her classroom cubby one Friday morning last month, she found a note there with the words, “You’re a terrorist,” scribbled in childish, all-capital letters. The next week, a message appeared, saying, “I will kill you.”
“She was visibly upset — she was crying,” her uncle Jamaal Siddiqui told CBS Boston. “Just the thought of that makes me feel sick to my stomach.”
The letters stopped after Hemenway Elementary School officials and police in Framingham, Mass., began investigating the possible hate crime.
After the threatening notes were discovered, civil rights advocates from the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked the public — particularly interfaith allies — to rally in support of the young student by sending encouraging messages.
Now, two weeks after receiving the threat, the fifth-grade student at Hemenway Elementary in Framingham, Mass., has stacks upon stacks of letters of support from all over the country, waiting to be read.
"Dear young sister, assalam 'alaikum!" one letter with a colorful heart began. "May you have peace in your heart, a smile on your face, and every good thing in this life and the next."
"Hi friend!" another read. "A Jewish family from Maryland is sending you love and support. You are wonderful."
"People of all religions should be freinds [sic]," a 6-year-old child named Sophie wrote above a colorful illustration of a young girl in a red hijab holding hands with a blond-haired girl.
In all there are more than 500 letters from more than 20 states.
“No child deserves to feel afraid at school because of their faith,” said Sumaiya Zama, director of community advocacy and education for CAIR’s Massachusetts branch. “We’re incredibly heartened by the wider community’s support for this young Muslim student, particularly by the powerful messages from the interfaith community.”
Last month, the FBI reported that hate crimes rose 17 percent nationwide last year from 2016 and 9 percent in Massachusetts. A report this fall from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding noted that 42 percent of Muslim parents reported that at least one of their children had been bullied in the past year because of their religion.
“Despite the climate of animosity and fear that so many Muslims face today, it’s clear that we have allies,” Zama noted.
Many emphasized solidarity and support, and “a significant number” came from Jewish allies who wrote that they had faced hate and discrimination, too.
More than half of the letters came from fellow students, while others came from as far away as Hawaii, CAIR officials said. They plan to bring the letters, which they collected at their own address to protect the girl’s security, to the girl’s home early next week.
Hemenway principal Liz Simon also asked students to send notes showing they “stand against” such hatred, explaining that such acts could constitute hate crimes. An art teacher at Hemenway said her students responded by creating artwork filled with messages of love and acceptance.