Teacher suspended in feud with Muslim
Ford CC instructor may face assault charge
George Hunter / The Detroit News
27 September 2001
-- A Henry Ford Community College philosophy teacher has been suspended
for allegedly assaulting an Islamic student during a recent classroom
The incident, which happened on Sept. 13, two days after
the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, has further heightened
tensions among many area Muslims.
Meanwhile, police and school officials insist religion
may not have caused the altercation.
The problem started when teacher John Azar came into his
classroom on the morning of Sept. 13 carrying a small American flag and a
book titled Why I'm Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq. Azar reportedly
urged his Islamic students to read the book to learn more about their
"I was shocked," said student Ahmed Kassim, a
20-year-old Dearborn resident of Yemeni descent.
"It was very degrading to have him show a book with
that title, and to say things like that, especially coming only two days
after the World Trade Center attacks."
Azar could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
One student in the class said Kassim, who is Muslim,
began arguing with Azar. Kassim and the student described Azar as a
"Mr. Azar started yelling at Ahmed, telling him to
shut up or get out," said 19-year-old Sakne Srour of Dearborn.
"That's what he kept saying: 'Shut up or get out.' But Ahmed wouldn't
be quiet; he kept saying Mr. Azar was wrong for stereotyping Muslims like
After arguing for a few minutes, Azar grabbed Kassim by
the shoulder and lifted him from his seat, Srour said. "Then, Mr.
Azar started pushing Ahmed toward the door, and he pushed him out of the
classroom. Then, Mr. Azar threw Ahmed's book bag at him and closed the
"At first, everyone in the class was just sitting
there in shock. We couldn't believe a teacher would do something so
As the incident began to sink in, students began walking
out of the classroom in protest. "We were truly offended," Srour
said. "One by one, we all started leaving the class."
Srour's and Kassim's accounts of the incident were
corroborated by other students, said HFCC President Andrew Mazzara.
"We've talked to most of the students who were in
the classroom that day, and they all tell basically the same story,"
"They say the teacher grabbed the student and
physically removed him from the classroom, which is unacceptable."
After the altercation, Kassim and the students who
walked out of the class reported Azar to school officials. "After we
investigated the incident, we suspended the teacher (with pay) for the
remainder of the semester," Mazzara said.
The incident has angered local civil rights leaders.
"These are not American values being
displayed," said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee. "It's a sad message of hate."
However, Dearborn Police Chief Greg Guibord said
investigators are not treating the matter as a racially or religiously
"From the information we have, this was not ethnic
or religious intimidation," Guibord said. "We are simply looking
into the alleged assault and battery that took place, and after we're
finished with our investigation, we'll present all the evidence to
School officials will reach a decision by Friday about
what permanent disciplinary action, if any, will be taken against Azar,
"It's absolutely unacceptable for a teacher to put
his hands on a student," Mazzara said.
However, Mazzara also was reluctant to call the incident
racially or religiously motivated.
"You have to be very careful about that,"
Mazzara said. "A college is not the place to suppress people's First
Amendment rights to free speech. After all, it was a philosophy class, and
part of a philosophy teacher's job is to challenge students' belief
systems. But, no matter what, there's never an excuse for a teacher to
touch a student like that."
Kassim's attorney, Mohammed Abdrabboh, plans to file a
"It's bad enough that Arab Americans are being
humiliated in airports; you'd think a safer place would be a college in
Dearborn, where people are supposedly sensitive to our community,"
You can reach George Hunter at (313)
561-3376 or email@example.com