“You want to talk about me and the way I dress oppressing women? I'm the one that's out there facing white supremacists."
In the past two years, hate crimes and violence against Muslims have increased to the highest levels since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In 2016—following Donald Trump’s late 2015 remarks on the campaign trail in which he suggested that we keep a database of Muslims and ban Muslims from entering the US—hate crimes against Muslims rose by 44 percent.
Undoubtedly, these reports indicate how difficult and terrifying it can be to be a Muslim in the US under the Trump administration. However, as the daughter of Moroccan Muslim immigrants who was six years old and living in a small town in the Midwest on September 11, 2001, I can’t say I know of a time when it was particularly easy to be a Muslim American. I don’t remember much about being six, but what I do remember is that beginning in September 2001, and until I graduated highschool, being asked what I thought about 9/11, as if I would be anything but horrified by it, was pretty normal. My parents, who co-own a Moroccan and Lebanese restaurant outside of Denver, were frequently asked similar ridiculous questions.
Living in the US as a Muslim today can feel like a dystopian deja-vu of sorts—one that harks back to the regular Islamophobia my family and so many others experienced directly after 9/11. However, I know that since I abandoned my small, conservative town in Colorado for New York City, my experience as an American with Muslim, immigrant roots has drastically changed. Today, as someone who isn’t particularly religious, isn’t identifiably Arab or Muslim, and is far-removed from any of our country’s many conservative hubs, I can still feel for my community while simultaneously understanding that I do not experience the brunt of the anti-Muslim sentiment or attacks under Trump. So, on the anniversary of Trump’s election, I spoke with three Muslim American women from various backgrounds to understand how living under Trump has shaped their lives in the past year.
In many ways, the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim and anti-women policy pushes have made the lives of Muslim American women unnecessarily difficult in the past year; at the same time, some Muslim women say Trump has inspired them to mobilize and defend their communities.
Deedra Abboud, a Muslim American attorney originally from Arkansas, says it was the anti-Muslim sentiment in her community, which she saw emboldened by the Trump administration, that motivated her to run for Senate in 2018. “Last year, what I saw was rhetoric, not just at the presidential race level but all the way down, that was clearly attacking various communities,” she tells Broadly. “When our elected leaders who weren't mimicking this rhetoric weren't holding [those who were] accountable, I decided that I needed to put my voice out there and we needed to have these conversations about what leadership is and what direction our country needs to go.”
Abboud, a hijab-wearing white woman with a strong Southern accent, says that her personal experiences of Islamophobia have been minimal since she converted in her twenties—something she attributes to her whiteness and speech. But she says she also knows this has not been the experience of many Muslim American women, especially since 9/11. In the last year, however, she’s experienced three public incidents in which she’s been targeted for her religion. Two involved a group of white supremacists who showed up to local meet-and-greets with Abboud. The third incident occurred just weeks ago: Abboud says she was enjoying a meal on the patio of a Mexican restaurant in Arizona when a man who had been eating at the same restaurant got into his truck, rolled down his window, and proceeded to shout at Abboud to take off her scarf and leave America, before driving away. “He didn't even know I was running for office,” she says. “I would've gotten this anyway, and that's where we are right now.”
[Trump]'s made me rethink my identity and made me prouder and louder when it comes to being vocal about who I am.
Abboud says the adversity she has seen her community and others face under the Trump administration has served as her fuel over the last year. “We are fighting things that our grandparents thought they put to rest. They're trying to take away our birth control, trying to control our sexuality,” she says. “You want to talk about me and the way I dress oppressing women? I'm the one that's out there facing white supremacists, you're the one that's trying to take away my ability to be whatever kind of woman in whatever kind of dress in whatever kind of sexual orientation I want to have.”
Across the country in New Jersey, social media editor of Muslim Girl and senior at Rutgers University Safaa Khan has become similarly impassioned to combat the rise in anti-Muslim, anti-women rhetoric and policy. Khan, a first generation Muslim American whose parents were born and raised in Pakistan, says the rise of Trump and subsequent xenophobic attitudes in the last year have made her even more proud of her identity. “I’m a hijab-wearing Muslim woman so I guess that puts me more in the public eye when it comes to literally being a representation [of Muslims] in public,” she tells Broadly. “He's made me rethink my identity and made me prouder and louder when it comes to being vocal about who I am.”
Though Khan has been working to elevate and empower Muslim women and girls to tell their own stories on Muslim Girl since 2015, she says she’s witnessed firsthand how people with anti-Muslim views have been emboldened in the past year. “I've been called out for wearing my hijab, people yelled at me to go back to my country, which is ironic because I was born down the road from where they yelled that to me,” she says. During an anti-ban, anti-wall march held at her university early this year, she says a pro-Trump group approached her directly, calling her a “towel head.”
LIke Abboud, Khan has tried to turn this adversity into a force for positive change for her community. “Post Women's March, there was a sudden rise in people being really interested in understanding the experiences of different minority communities,” she says. “I think the negativity, for us, I don't want to say it's great, but we use it to motivate us and educate others and reclaim our narrative.”
For Farideh Sakhaeifar, a political refugee and artist from Tehran who now lives in Brooklyn, the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigration attitude has had a major impact on her personally. Sakhaeifar first came to the US in 2009 on a student visa in order to make the political art that she would be prosecuted for creating in Iran, due to the country’s free speech restrictions.
In March, Sakhaeifar spoke to Broadly shortly after her parents canceled a trip to visit her in April, due to fears and uncertainty surrounding Trump’s anticipated travel ban. At the time, she said her life was effectively on hold, as she’d been prevented from traveling and seeing her family members who live abroad, and the government had yet to reply to her application for asylum status. Today, Sakhaeifar says she is still living in the same purgatory, unable to plan beyond the 150 to 180 day work permits while she awaits the interview for her asylum application she submitted two years ago now. With no guarantee that she’ll continue to receive work permits, Sakhaeifar describes the psychological toll this situation has taken on her: “I'm living in an unpredictable situation right now,” she says. “I think about [the Muslim ban] on a daily basis. I feel constantly insecure, not knowing what's going to happen day after day.”
Last month, Trump’s third attempt at banning citizens of majority Muslim countries was blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii. However, Sakhaeifar says that she still feels uneasy about her future and refuses to travel, even within the US, and fears the possibility of facing xenophobic officials at airports or borders.
For whatever reason, my country of origin, Morocco, has not been included on any iteration of Trump’s ban—but that doesn’t mean it won’t be. I’ve thought about Martin Niemöller’s infamous poem, "First they came ...", a lot in the past year, and I’ve sat in awe at protests as masses of people turned out to support Muslims, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized communities. Not because they belonged to these communities, but because they care about the rights of all people in this country. To me, that’s been the beauty of this otherwise suffocating year and I suppose I can thank Donald Trump for that.