Metro area Muslims wary after Trump win

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

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 Arab American National Museum Annex to watch the national election results late Tuesday, 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 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.

The unexpected victor in a divisive contest where heated rhetoric often centered around those in the U.S. with ties to the Middle East has Muslim Americans across Metro Detroit wondering how, or if, the new presidency impacts their lives as well as other minorities.

“There’s a lot of concern in the Muslim community about the future of our country and where we’re heading,” said Dawud Walid, executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Michigan chapter. “The concern is that there are people who are far-right, white nationalists that may be emboldened by Trump’s victory to intimidate and perpetrate violence against people of color.”

Amid concerns about extremist attacks abroad and in the United States, a major component of Trump’s campaign was a proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration, which had been removed from the web page detailing the plan Wednesday then restored the next day, the Washington Post reported.

The election outcome indicates “Islamophobia is a winning message,” said Khaled Beydoun, an associate law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, who spoke to guests Tuesday at the Dearborn results watch event. “It won resoundingly tonight.”

Now, some Muslims in Metro Detroit that CAIR Michigan estimates at around 300,000 worry about the implications.

“I was honestly just shocked and in utter disbelief that this is how the majority of Americans think,” said Khadega Mohammed, 17, a high school senior from Canton Township and daughter of Sudanese immigrants. “It’s a message being sent out that, literally, we don’t want you here.”

It’s not clear how the new administration could affect refugee resettlements in Michigan, which federal officials estimate ranks fourth among states.

About half of the nearly 400 to arrive in Metro Detroit in the last two months are Muslim, said Sean de Four, vice president of child and family services at the Detroit-based nonprofit Samaritas. Resettlements scheduled through December are expected to continue as planned, he added. “We’re all just waiting for the new administration so that we can join with them and work with them to help make this a smooth transition and make sure that our work continues.”

Advocacy groups such as Emerge USA Michigan canvassed the region in an effort to reach registered Muslim-American and Arab-American voters and push them to the polls. They were spurred, at least in part, by a desire to reject 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.”

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.”

Though the presidential race disappointed some, others embraced the gains from this election cycle, including Democrat Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn, a Muslim, who became a state representative.

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

But he and others recognize more work is needed to reach across divides and educate others. “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,” Ahmed said. “…Our country is too great of a nation to be derailed by any single individual.”

To reach out, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Metro Detroit chapter this year launched “Coffee, Cake and True Islam” at its Rochester Hills mosque. The weekly event allows neighbors, academia, students and others to meet one-on-one with members and ask “anything and everything” about the faith, said Dr. Mansoor Qureshi, the group’s president.

“If there’s any further misunderstanding about our religion, we will redouble our efforts. … We’re not going to let any sort of fear or anything whatsoever come our way. Because we’re enjoying the religious freedom and we’re really appreciating what we have in this country. One candidate is not going to change our mood or feeling.”

Walid said his group is monitoring any threats reported at area mosques, which have already tightened security, and allegations of discrimination. “The greatest concern really is our children and the type of bullying that takes place in public schools,” he said. CAIR has called for a recent incident in Ann Arbor in which a a man allegedly threatened to set fire to a Muslim woman if she didn’t remove her hijab to be investigated as a hate crime.

Fozia Saleem-Rasheed, a physician from Bloomfield Hills, learned police patrolled outside her child’s Islamic school as a post-election precaution. But she adamantly refuses to let fear of increased targeting affect her work or worship.

“The idea of taking my hijab off didn’t cross my mind because I felt like this is who I am and I belong in this country,” the mother of four said. “Though Donald Trump has voiced some statements that would make us think that we are not a part of the fabric of society, we absolutely are. And that’s what I’m telling my children.”

Fear is not an option, either, for Mohammed, who recalls how Trump’s positions sparked rifts even among her classmates. The teen plans to work with other students, including Muslim and minorities, “to brainstorm ways we can unite together and fight this hate. We are moving forward together.”

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