American Muslims speak out


‘Fear should not stop us from living our lives’

By Ali Younes

When Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US after the deadly San Bernardino shooting, American Muslims felt alarmed and threatened. Muslims were the target of another Republican candidate, Ben Carson, whose statements during the campaign were seen as insulting to Islam and American Muslims. Nevertheless, both candidates are seen as strong contenders for the Republican presidential candidacy, suggesting that their religious rhetoric can win votes in certain segments of American society.

Al Jazeera asked several American Muslims to address the political environment in the country in light of the statements by Trump and Carson among others, perceived as stoking fear and distrust of the Muslim community.

Here are the responses of a cross-section of the American Muslim community who represent a mirror image of the diversity of American society itself.

Jeffery Amaan Almeda

Almeda, 31, is an International Relations student. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he is a member of the Pueblo and Mexica nations [Almeda]

As both an indigenous American and a Muslim, oddly enough, I feel a sense of relief. In context: I feel a sense of relief that America’s consciousness is starting to awake to the reality of institutional racism that has always existed from white supremacy. It caused the mass genocide of indigenous people and has manifested itself in American society in numerous ways - from the way our history books are written to how policies are enacted.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric used reminds me of how we were treated in the same manner - accused of having a “backwards religion” and being “savages” just because we lived our lives differently. Donald Trump isn’t the problem; he is only the indictment to the bigger and systemic problem this nation has yet to face. Our country can’t talk about American values until every American, regardless of their background, is sincerely valued.

America is more multi-holiday than multicultural.

Trump is a mere voice for white supremacy that blames people of colour in its self-victimisation. Now this type of rhetoric can be engaged more deeply. The cure is the pain, and in the pain, we will have to rise as a nation against the racism that has been plaguing us since the beginning. Trump’s rhetoric and the number of supporters are not a surprise to me or to most people who realise the level of racism that has always existed.

The best thing we can do as individuals is take the time to have a conversation with our neighbours, friends, and co-workers and not let the media do the religious education for us. Together, as Americans, we can really work towards what America truly stands for as a multicultural society.

Jannah Farooque

Farooque, 29, is a mother, visual artist and poet who lives in Denver, Colorado [Farooque/Facebook]

I'm extremely bothered by Trump's blatant display of bigotry. I'm Muslim, I'm black and I'm a woman - so I'm no stranger to racism and discrimination. My ancestors have been systematically oppressed and targeted for centuries in the very country we helped build from the ground up.

I feel Trump is simply the unfiltered version of our American justice system; we're just used to racism being sugar-coated or cloaked in legal terms and laws. Trump’s arguments are riddled with presumptive holes and hypocrisy. He isn't saying anything that people of colour haven't already felt and experienced for decades or centuries. It's always been the case in America that anything nonwhite is foreign and threatening.

I do not agree with the idea of Muslims "laying low" in times of heightened Islamaphobia.

I think now more than ever we need to make our voices heard and show the world who we are.

I think we do that by living without fear and standing firmly in our identities. Life shouldn't stop because there are ignorant people trying to drown us out. That's exactly what African Americans did during the Harlem Renaissance; we were unapologetically black and beautiful. That era gave birth to some of the best music, art and culture that America has ever seen. That is how you build bridges in this country, by loving yourself and those around you. Our strength lies in our differences.

Dean Obeidallah

New Jersey-born Obeidallah is a comedian, writer and the host of Sirius XM radio's The Dean Obeidallah Show [Obeidallah/Facebook]
Arab and Muslim Americans are worse off today than they were during and in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks fourteen years ago.

Most Americans were asking what Islam was, and now, they think they’ve found the answers through the negative images they see in the media through the actions of ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and Levant]. Certainly, Americans are more concerned today than they were before and immediately after September 11. But, hopefully, this will pass in time.

Americans should not blame Muslim or Arab Americans for the actions of terrorist groups like ISIL or al-Qaeda because they have no power to stop them … In fact, if I personally ever get in contact with them, they will probably kill me, too. At the same time, when you have lone-wolf attackers, like the ones in San Bernardino, it makes it even worse for our community. But such attackers are a case in point because they are “lone wolves" who stay away from the community and commit terrorist acts that only further damage the community's reputation.

ISILs' terrorism makes media gravitate to cover it even more. Moreover, Republican candidate Donald Trump is exploiting this kind of media coverage to stoke the fears of Americans and convert that into electoral points. Trump, who kicked off his campaign by demonising Latinos and now Muslims, will say and do anything to get elected.

Brent Klimaszewski

Klimaszewski is a 28-year-old teacher, writer and history student from Columbus, Ohio [Klimaszewski]

The political climate throughout large swathes of America continues to become more poisonous by the minute. Numerous groups and people with little power in this system continue to be targeted by industries of hate, but none more so than Muslim Americans.

As Muslims, we are seeing a wave of bigotry being expressed in such an open manner that it is truly astonishing. I have long been accustomed to seeing Islamophobia put in supposedly ‘polite’ terms, with a pseudo-intellectual veneer.

But this current Republican primary has unleashed a torrent of xenophobia and open hatred of Muslim Americans that is frightening in its scope and in its seeming impermeability to reality and facts

The most shocking examples of this are of course typified by Donald Trump; whether he is claiming there were fictional Muslim ‘celebrations’ in New Jersey on September 11 or his truly startling declaration that he wishes to ban or purge Muslims from the United States. It is not just hateful words and slurs from Trump and his acolytes, surges in open violence and discrimination against Muslim Americans is visible.

Trump and the right-wing generally, are helping to foster and grow this climate of intolerance. The last handful of years has witnessed a much talked about rise in anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant neo-fascist movements on the European right. What I see when looking at 2015 America and the rise of Trump is, to be blunt, a movement of racists who long for pre-civil rights era period where they would be free to do as this wish to a minority group under threat.

Amal Kassir

Kassir is 20-year-old poet, activist and writer from Denver, Colorado [Kassir]

Personally, it makes me sad, especially because I consider myself an American; I am an educated American, and I am an American in tune with the values of the constitution. To see how impactful fear can be, that it pushes others to completely discard their own core American values - this makes it difficult to use the constitution to fight for civil rights and highlight injustices. This political shift is significant because it is so blatantly wrong. But unfortunately, 'White America' seems to be America - not the ‘salad-bowl’ America we all know and love. It doesn't feel like I'm considered ‘American’ when these discussions about safety arise, even though I was born and raised here.

Donald Trump is just a tool to rile up the American people, and I don't believe in his legitimacy. Aside from the fact that he is transforming public opinion to accept the stripping of Muslims' constitutional rights.

This "ban on Muslims" was really an opportunity to pull out the bandwagon from America's historically haunted garage ...

Mr Trump won't necessarily win the elections, but he brought out the statement necessary to empower and justify anti-Muslim sentiment in America.

That being said, the majority of Americans are very supportive of our community, especially Colorado. Hundreds of mainstream Americans came out at a peace vigil to support us.

The fact of the matter is: The fear is not and should not stop us from living our lives

We are unapologetic and rightfully so. But we still have to take the necessary precautions and incorporate protective measures into our everyday lives.

Nedal Mefleh

Mefleh is a US Air Force veteran and president of the Islamic Society of Clemson from South Carolina [Mefleh]

As a community leader, I am saddened on several levels by the way some mainstream Americans are displaying their support for a bigot and a racist like Donald Trump. Trump’s anti-Muslim platform is an ominous sign that our country is heading in the wrong direction. Living in this country almost all of my life and after serving 22 years of service in the US Air Force, I have never felt so vulnerable and so demonised, the way I feel today.

What Donald Trump and his supporters stand for is hate and blatant racism, disguised in the clothing of political conservatism. As Americans who happened to be of the Muslim faith, we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of level-headed and sane Americans against this type of neo-racism against our cherished diversity.

We are equally disturbed and concerned that terrorists commit acts of terrorism and violence using our name and tarnishing the reputation of our faith. We love America as much as anyone else. Great many of us, like many other communities, have fought died for this country. We all should work even harder to make this country great.

Nadeen Ibrahim

Ibrahim is a 21-year-old public health student from Denver, Colorado [Ibrahim]

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

This is the statement that I take pride in being an American Muslim.

Though, recent racist remarks and a call for discrimination towards American Muslims by Republican presidential candidates, like Donald Trump, have made me question my safety and the protection of my rights as a citizen of the United States of America. Such racism calls for immediate action from the American society – action that includes both non-Muslims and Muslim Americans. It is imperative that all community members assert themselves to speak out against all forms of racism, and the collective American society has shown examples of that.

For the American Muslims, mosques throughout Colorado and the nation are opening their doors to host open houses and lecture nights to welcome all community members to learn more about Islam and their local American Muslim neighbours. From non-Muslim Americans, mosques and American Muslims are receiving an overwhelming amount of support in the form of flowers, cards, and messages. That’s what it’ll take: a collective, community-based approach of both non-Muslim and Muslim Americans to speak out against the racism towards Muslim Americans. It is on us as members of the American society to speak out against all forms of racism by expressing solidarity for minority groups.

Halil Demir

Demir is the head of the Chicago-based Zakat Foundation [Demir/YouTube]

There seems to be a highly organised and focused worldwide propaganda against Muslims and Islam that wasn’t there before.

Anti-Islam hysteria is spreading like a disease

People know they can get rich by attacking Islam and Muslims, and it is unfortunate. Moreover, our law-abiding Muslim American community is paying a heavy price because of that. Our children and women, especially, are living in fear because of the intense focus on them [that’s] treating them as a “threat” or as dangerous.

This will only alienate our community and push it to the edges of society, instead of working to integrate it and make it feel as a part of the American family.

Shiyam Galyon

Galyon, 25, is a writer and community organiser in Houston, Texas [Galyon]

As a Muslim in America today, the headlines I see remind me of things I experienced as a teenager after 9/11: getting yelled at the grocery store, having our garage spray-painted with hate graffiti. There was also bullying at school coming not just from students, but more subtly from teachers.

What Trump, his political ilk, and their supporters are saying about Muslims in America is inflammatory, but it’s not surprising because of the deeply ingrained racism in this country. For example, people like Trump will have you believe that Muslims are a foreign group to America when, in fact, Muslims have been a part of America since its founding.