Two days before Donald Trump acknowledged the existence of Islamophobia at last Sunday’s presidential debate, calling it “a shame,” 7-year-old Abdul Aziz Usmani was beaten up for being Muslim, his father claims.
“Welcome to the United States of America of Donald Trump,” Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani, 38, wrote in a viral Facebook post published on Oct. 8, one day before the debate. “He is in grade one, bullied and beaten by his own classmates in [a] school bus for being a Muslim.”
Five students attending Weatherstone Elementary School in Cary, NC, punched Abdul in the face, twisted his arm, and kicked him in the stomach, Usmani told me. Abdul, who is Pakistani American, was riding home on the bus when a boy asked him why he doesn’t eat meat from the school’s cafeteria. The 7-year-old replied by saying he only eats Halal food because he’s Muslim.
“My son told the kid to leave him alone, so he punched him in the face, and Abdul Aziz started screaming,” said Usmani, a globally known Pakistani data scientist. He added that four more kids joined in, and hit Abdul repeatedly.
“I feel very bad. I did nothing, really nothing. I thought they’re my friends,” Abdul, who was born in the U.S., told me.
Binish Bhagwanee, Usmani’s wife, told him that Abdul was in pain and had bruises and spots on his face when he arrived home. But Abdul refused to tell her what happened at first. The five kids who allegedly attacked him were among the classmates who celebrated his birthday at school; Abdul had brought cake for the entire class.
“He was traumatized and shocked,” Usmani said.
Bhagwanee immediately contacted Weatherstone Elementary School, and informed assistant principal Lori Nelson, after she found out what happened. Usmani also told the Cary Police Department about the alleged incident, though he didn’t file an official report.
Nearly a week later on Oct. 13, principal Tim Chadwick said in a letter sent to parents of all students attending Weatherstone that its investigation found nothing had happened.
“At this time, the information from the investigation does not support an altercation. In fact, we are not able to corroborate much of what is described in the release,” Chadwick wrote. “No students who were interviewed witnessed an altercation. The bus driver did not witness an altercation. The child did not report to the bus driver any injury.”
Lisa Luten, communications director for the Wake County Public School System (of which Weatherstone is a part), told me that there was no camera on the bus.
In a statement, police also said they found no evidence of an attack.
“They can hide, they can deny, they can forget about it, they can do what they like. For us, it is an unforgettable memory. The experience has shattered us badly as a family, ” Usmani said about the school’s letter.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently reported an "unprecedented spike" in anti-Muslim hate crimes "attributed at least in part to statements and policy proposals made by public figures like GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and others." A May report from Georgetown University confirmed CAIR's statement, revealing that there were 53 Islamophobic attacks in December 2015. In comparison, nine month earlier when the presidential election season started, there were only two such attacks.
"Trump made many anti-Muslim statements during televised appearances on mainstream news media outlets, impacting millions of viewers across the U.S and around the world," the report says.
Usmani echoes CAIR’s findings. “Post-Trump nomination, I started realizing that this is not the America I know. Islamophobia increased and it’s not safe anymore,” he said.
Usmani added that his other children were bullied for their religion in the past, including middle child Abdelbaset Usmani. Several months ago, the 8-year-old’s friends called a bearded Usmani a “terrorist” after he dropped Abdelbaset off at Weatherstone. Since then, Usmani said, he’s stopped bringing his kids to and from school, and doesn’t attend parent-teacher conferences or attend graduation ceremonies “just to save my kids from being subjected to Islamophobia.”
The alleged incident involving Abdul was the last straw for Usmani and Bhagwanee. The couple and their three sons moved back to Pakistan on Oct. 10, and refuse to return if Republican presidential nominee Trump wins the election next month.
“If Trump becomes president, me and my family will certainly not come back to the U.S.,” Usmani said. “Abdul Aziz told me, ‘Papa, I feel more safe in Pakistan than the U.S.’”
Still, Abdul, who wants to be president when he grows up, says he plans to return home as an adult.
“I still love America, but I will go back once I am big enough to take care of myself,” he said. “I feel proud to be a Muslim and proud to be an American.”
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."