Director of Duke University’s Islamic Center hopes Trump’s election will foster sense of solidarity

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Dilshad Ali had never felt the fear.

Not when Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, a plan his own running mate called “offensive and unconstitutional.”

Not when Trump suggested monitoring mosques and torturing terrorism suspects.

Not even when Islamophobic incidents spiked to their highest levels since the 9/11 attacks.

In some ways, Ali, a 40-year-old mother of three, had been buffered from the long and brutal 2016 presidential campaign.

She trods familiar ground nearly every day in her Virginia home. She drops her children off at school, where the teachers know her and she knows them. She shops at the same grocery store, where the people smile at her and she smiles back, her face framed by a hijab.

At her polling station on Tuesday, she was greeted warmly by neighbors, even the ones whose cars bore pro-Trump stickers.

As the editor of the Muslim section of Patheos, a website specializing in spirituality, Ali had edited plenty of stories about other Muslims’ distress. She knew their fears intimately. But she had never herself felt the stomach-churning anxiety.

Until Wednesday morning.

“I woke up today and I finally felt it. It felt personal, like the election was a vote against me.”

As a tumultuous Tuesday ticked toward a worry-producing Wednesday, scores of Muslim imams and activists, soccer moms and scholars, commiserated over their concern and uncertainty, even as they pledged to hold fast to their faith and build stronger coalitions with fellow minorities.

More than 7 in 10 Muslims had said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, according to an October survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Just 4% had said they would vote for Trump, and perhaps as few expected him to win.

Some said his election felt like a betrayal, as if half the country had turned on them.

“Our worst nightmare materialized last night,” said Wardah Khalid, a writer and foreign policy analyst.

“A man that built his platform on bigotry, misogyny, and the vilification of Muslims and minorities won the highest office in the land.”

‘Open season’ on Muslims

“Shock. Complete and utter shock,” said Yasir Qadhi, a well-known Muslim scholar in Memphis, Tennessee. He, like many others, said he had expected Clinton to win the presidency.

“And all of us are genuinely worried. I fear for the safety of my wife in hijab; of my children in the streets; of minorities everywhere struggling to understand what happened.”

Sahar Aziz, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law, said Trump’s election represents a regression to a less tolerant and inclusive America.

“The general mood I am seeing among Muslims is concern that a Trump presidency will be open season on them. Some Muslims worry their children may experience bullying at school because Trump’s victory validated the mainstreaming of Islamophobia. Some women are afraid to wear their headscarves in public in case this invites physical or verbal assault.”

Amirah Waite, a 19-year-old American-Indonesian college student who lives in Hawaii, said Wednesday she was “so terrified that I can’t stop shaking … stuck in a country that hates me.”

Other Muslims said they fear Trump will install anti-Muslim activists, whose work he has promoted, in powerful roles at the Justice Department and other agencies.

“We could go back to that post-9/11, witch hunt-type environment,” said Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College, the country’s first accredited Muslim college.

In California, Abdullah bin Hamid Ali said he and other African-American Muslims are somewhat less unsettled than their immigrant co-religionists. They have seen enough of American history to sense that elections often hinge on turning out white voters, sometimes through fear and demonization of “others.”

“While I can’t say I’m ‘happy’ with the results (I wasn’t rooting for Clinton, either) I am somewhat hopeful that Trump’s election will force people to come closer and be much nicer to one another,” said Abdullah, a professor at Zaytuna.

Omid Safi, director of Duke University’s Islamic Center, likewise said he hopes Trump’s election will foster a sense of solidarity among the marginalized, including Muslims and Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans, poor people and gays and lesbians.

“If we want to see an America that we are proud of, we have to build that America. It is not in our present, and was not part of our past, it can only be in our shared future.”

Determined not to change

Dalia Mogahed, a researcher and pollster, said she is in shock, unable to believe that more than 50.5 million Americans voted to elect Donald Trump as president.

“I’m scared of what this means for my family, especially my kids. What kind of an America will they inherit?”

But Mogahed said she is determined not to change a “single plan.” She will continue to advocate on behalf of this country’s estimated 3.3 million Muslims and to wear her hijab in public, proudly announcing her identity as a Muslim.

Many Muslims expressed similar thoughts on Wednesday, resolving to continue to fight for their civil rights, and to remain vigilant against any encroachments on their claim to an American identity.

“I’m assuming that the next four years will be hard, but we must use a Trump victory to renew our connection to God and communities so we can organize around important issues that concern us all,” said Imam Suhaib Webb, a popular cleric based in Washington.

“Regardless of the situation, God commands us to stay dedicated to good and to each other. Nothing changes. My passion is greater than it was yesterday.”

‘God’s got us’

On Wednesday morning in Texas, Sheikh Omar Suleiman had one of the toughest conversations he can recall with his young daughter.

“She couldn’t understand why America would elect a bigoted bully. And neither can I. But I reminded her what we do with bullies: We stand up to them.”

Hundreds of miles away, Ali had a similar conversation with her 13-year-old daughter.

The middle-school student had become deeply invested in the presidential campaign. Her class held mock elections and watched the debates for extra credit. She knew that Trump had mocked a disabled reporter. She heard what he said about Muslims and women.

As her daughter sobbed on her shoulder, Ali tried to comfort her. But her bluff was called.

“You’re right, it’s not OK,” Ali said.

“None of this is OK. But eventually, it will be OK. We are a practicing Muslim family and presidents and elections and nationalism and culture are one thing, but God is above all of us. And God has his reasons for doing things that we don’t understand, but I fully believe that he’s got us.”

Later on Wednesday, after Ali’s husband dropped their daughter off at school, Ali called the school counselor, asking her to quietly check on her daughter.