Muslim Americans hope for the best under Trump presidency

"If we see antisemitism, it will be our obligation as the city of New York to stand against it,” said New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

November 13, 2016 00:36
NY Jews, Muslims and Christians send message of unity on 9/11 anniversary

NY Jews, Muslims and Christians send message of unity on 9/11 anniversary. (photo credit: DANIELLE ZIRI)

NEW YORK – For first lady Michelle Obama’s final commencement speech, she chose to speak at historic City College of New York in upper Manhattan – an institution that has been for over a century a haven for immigrants to America – and she took a few jabs at then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Here in America, we don’t give in to our fears. We don’t build up walls to keep people out, because we know that our greatness has always depended upon contributions from people who were born elsewhere, but sought out this country and made it their home,” she said to the class of 2016 graduates in May.

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City College is a place where Jewish immigrants, seeking an excellent and affordable education, found refuge as first-generation Americans in the 20th century.

“Consider the story of the former CEO of Intel, Andrew Grove, class of 1960,” the first lady said. “He was a Hungarian immigrant whose harrowing escape from Nazism and communism shaped both his talent for business and his commitment to philanthropy.”

She spoke to a class of graduates that was made up of the newest waves of immigrants to come to the United States, at a school whose Muslim Student Association (MSA) is one of its biggest clubs on campus. In the days following the election of Donald Trump as president, the Muslim-American community has been in shock and is trying to rebound – trying to understand the best ways to move forward with a president-elect who has threatened to deport all Muslims from the country, regardless of their documentation.

“I didn’t really understand the impact of the race until the night of the elections,” City College senior Fariha Hussain, treasurer of the Muslims Giving Back charity on campus and an active member of the school’s MSA, told The Jerusalem Post.

“[My mom] was tearing up. I was like, ‘Why are you crying like that? It’s going to be okay. You have your papers. You know you’re good,’” she said.

“She was just like, ‘How could he win?’ That moment it really hit me.”

Since then, there have been often violent protests in cities across the country, as well as an increase in racist incidents involving Muslims, including the tearing-off of hijabs and taunts to leave the country.

On Tuesday night at the White House, protesters held picketing signs that read “Stand Against Anti-Muslim Bigotry” next to white men wearing Make America Great Again hats.

National organizations quickly released statements. “It is our sincere hope that negative campaign rhetoric is left behind in the upcoming phase, and that president-elect Trump advocates for the rights of the American people, regardless of gender, race or religious affiliation,” US Council of Muslim Organizations secretary-general Oussama Jammal said.

The New York branch of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations called out to elected officials.

“New York officials must do more than just denounce Mr. Trump’s Islamophobic policy proposals, they must stop New York City’s own unconstitutional surveillance,” said the council’s director of strategic litigation, Albert Fox Cahn.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council called for communities to engage in dialogue, even with those with whom they typically disagree. “If there is any silver lining in these election results, [it] is that this is going to motivate people to get out of their bubbles and to reach out and engage people – their neighbors, their communities – because if you don’t, things like this can happen,” director of media and public affairs Rabiah Ahmed told the Post.

At the organizational level, groups are looking to move forward.

They talked of living day by day, and of their hope that the statements President-elect Trump made will not be possible to make manifest in a system of checks and balances.

From person-to-person, however, many are still struggling to accept the outcome of the election and what may be the future for minorities, for women and most poignantly, for Muslims.

The Muslim Writer’s Collective held an emergency town hall meeting in Manhattan on Friday night to discuss the outcome of the election, with feelings still very raw. The scene at NYU’s Islamic Center for the weekly Friday prayer and sermon was startling at times.

More than 500 people showed up to hear the heralded Imam Khalid Latif speak for the first time since the election.

He told the crowd that Muslims must “see and understand how the results of this election can indicate to us why the systemic and structural racisms exist in this country the way that they do.”

When the congregants came into the mosque in a multi-faith building just down the block from Washington Square Park, they were greeted by members of the clergy of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a nearby progressive, LGBT synagogue.

The rabbis handed out a hundred roses while holding handmade signs that read “Jews Support Our Muslim Friends.”

Muslims cried into the arms of the Jewish clergy, shocked and honored to receive such a supportive gesture. One mother took a photo of the rabbis and said out loud, “I’m taking a picture for my daughter, who is scared.”

Following the services, people held their roses and chatted among themselves, some still talking about the kind gesture.“ The elevator doors open and you see this beam of light of individuals who are not Muslims, who happen to be Jews, who are supporting Muslims,” said Salmaan Ather, who is visiting New York for a wedding.

“I can confidently say it’s not just for Muslims, it’s for humanity as well,” he added. Later in the day, the congregation held services further uptown. In a space with only standing room, old and new faces listened to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum speak about coming together as a community.

She then introduced the mayor of New York City, Bill DeBlasio, who at times has received criticism from the minority community.

The mayor, who is making the rounds at places of faith this week, took the podium to address the congregation with the evening’s sermon.

“If the Jewish community is affronted, here sitting in the city with the largest Jewish population in any city on the globe, we will stand up,” DeBlasio said. “Remember that intolerance breeds more intolerance. If we see antisemitism, it will be our obligation as the city of New York to stand against it,” he continued.

“If our Muslim brothers and sisters are affronted, we will stand up. We have a special obligation to this nation to show the people in the entire country that this city, with so many proud Muslim New Yorkers that make up the fabric of our society, this positive, successful city – this city hums and works because of our great Muslim community, as well as our great Jewish community, as well as our great Christian community, as well as those who don’t practice a religious faith and all the other faiths.”

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