Muslim-Americans worry what message Trump’s win sends

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Dearborn — In the weeks leading up to Election Night, Gina Shkoukani was hopeful the presidential candidate she supported would win the White House.

Like many other Muslims who gathered at the Annex in the Arab American National Museum to watch the national election results arrive, the Bloomfield Hills attorney backed Hillary Clinton. Her enthusiasm soared as the former Secretary of State picked up electoral votes across the map then fell as the totals tilted toward GOP rival Donald Trump.

In the end, faced with the reality that the country could be led by a a polarizing figure whose positions often cast a negative light on Muslim and Arab-Americans, Shkoukani felt another powerful emotion: fear.

“If Trump was the main person who said we should build the wall, we need to stop immigration, all these things that divide us — how are we going to be known as the United States of America if our president isn’t uniting us?” she said.

Earlier, seated near a projector in what officials consider the first museum in the world devoted to Arab-Americans’ history and culture, the crowd anxiously awaited the outcome of a divisive contest where heated rhetoric often centered around those in the United States with ties to the Middle East.

As figures flashed on the screen and ABC News projected a lead going to Trump, who had touted a controversial temporary ban on Muslim immigration, the crowd nervously stared and chatted in small groups.

Then, when Clinton won more states, the audience cheered and erupted in applause.

The results had not been finalized by 1 a.m. when the venue closed. Organizers told the remaining attendees not to lose hope and embrace the gains from this election cycle, including Democrat Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn, a Muslim, becoming a state representative.

“We have accomplished a lot,” said Muzammil Ahmed, board chairman with the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

Election Night followed volunteers with advocacy groups such as Emerge USA Michigan fanning across the region, heading efforts to reach registered Muslim-American and Arab-American voters and push them to the polls.

The push was spurred by a desire to reject the hateful rhetoric, said Asha Noor, an advocacy specialist with Dearborn-based ACCESS. “We put our heart and soul out there. … It takes fear and intimidation to get people out of their shell.”

More Muslims across southeast Michigan and elsewhere worked to have their voices heard at the polls, said Iltefat Hamzavi, a Metro Detroit physician and board member with Emerge USA as well as the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

“I think we got tired of being the scapegoats,” he said. “We’ve mobilized in ways we’ve never mobilized before.”

Saamih Bashir of Canton Township voted for Clinton since he believes “she definitely has more experience to be in the White House. Trump has no clue.”

That’s why the businessman becoming commander-in-chief could have devastating implications for relations nationwide, he said. “People will have more courage to discriminate against Muslims and minorities. This means his supporters will have the power to do whatever they want.”

Khadega Mohammed, 17, a high school senior from Canton Township and daughter of Sudanese immigrants, recalls how Trump’s positions sparked rifts even among her classmates. She also worried about how his presidency could reverberate nationwide. “He has already ignited so much hate in people,” she said while wearing a bright red hijab. “It’s going to rage on.”

The election results indicate “Islamophobia is a winning message,” Khaled Beydoun, an associate law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, told the guests. “It won resoundingly tonight.”

With such division lingering, “the real work of healing the country is going to begin tomorrow,” Ahmed said. “We have a lot of work to do to heal the country. Hopefully this is a window of opportunity for us to really engage on a deep level with people that come from different walks of life. … Our country is too great of a nation to be derailed by any single individual.”

He and other advocacy group officials called on those disappointed about the election to mobilize for change. “We have to make sure we do our part,” said Hassan Sheikh, executive director at the nonprofit Emerge USA Michigan.