TEHRAN (IQNA) – A helpline set up to provide confidential support for Muslim youth across North America received a 300 percent increase in calls in 2016.
Naseeha, which means "advice” in Arabic, is based in the Greater Toronto Area but revealed to the Toronto Star this week that most of the calls are coming from concerned Muslims in the United States.
"Youth are struggling with the sentiment that they don’t belong and that is manifesting itself in unhealthy behaviors,” Yaseen Poonah, founder and president of Naseeha, told the Canadian newspaper.
Having received 4,000 calls in 2015, Naseeha, which was set up close to 10 years ago, took 16,000 calls last year. The number overwhelmed the volunteer helpline, which employs around 15 counselors, with Poonah stating that they were able to answer less than 20 percent of calls.
"Now it’s a different ball game,” Poonah said.
Last year saw Muslims thrust into a harsh spotlight in the US thanks to the 2016 presidential campaign. President-elect Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country, for those currently in the US to sign up to a registry and for the surveillance of mosques.
Poonah also revealed that Naseeha have also been getting calls from parents concerned about the impact of Trump’s election victory.
"We had a number of mainstream organizations in the U.S. asking us if we had enough resources available in light of a Trump presidency,” Poonah said. "Admittedly, we are a little concerned about what will happen after Inauguration Day.”
The stark number of calls to the helpline is far from the only indicator of the hardships currently being faced by Muslims in the U.S. Hate crimes against Muslims rose by 67 percent in 2015, according to FBI data. The number of incidents also surged following Trump’s election victory. In the month following the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 112 anti-Muslim incidents.
Combining that discrimination with general adolescent issues adds up to a particularly troubling time for young Muslims. "All of this can affect one’s sense of self, identity and mental health,” Poonah said.