Fifteen months into a campaign of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiment, Donald Trump’s campaign has begun to make quiet attempts to make amends with the American Muslim community.
In September, representatives from his campaign reached out to mosques in Illinois and Virginia, Muslim community leaders tell The Daily Beast, with hopes of speaking to their congregations. They said no to the photo-op—but said they remain in negotiations with the campaign to meet with him privately.
Muslim leaders have every right to be skeptical of the mogul who less than one year ago suggested a total ban of Muslim immigrants into America. The ban, in one iteration—even included U.S. citizens. He has since prayed on the fears of terrorism, frequently using attacks on the United States to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment.
Earlier this month, Stephanie Holderfield, the Illinois State Director for the Trump campaign, reached out to the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Ill. She was interested in whether Trump could appear publicly before their congregation on Sept. 12, says the mosque’s president, Oussama Jammal. The day was during Eid-al-Adha, a major Islamic celebration, when 20,000 American Muslim would gather at a stadium to pray in the morning.
Its leaders rejected the idea outright, both because it was an Islamic holiday and because they didn’t want to give Trump a stage, but said they were open to a private meeting between local Muslim leaders and the Republican nominee.
“Our religion teaches us that if someone is willing to come forward for peace, you should come forward as well. Ignorance can lead to animosity. So if you can come together… then we should,” Jammal said.
Holderfield asked instead if she could join their breakfast reception preceding Eid-al-Adha prayers. The mosque agreed, and she attended along with other local politicians—Bridgewater Mayor Steven Landek, state Rep. Andre Thapedi and U.S. Congressman Dan Lipinski—and continued conversations about the mosque hosting Trump at some point.
“We are still in negotiations to have a meeting with Mr. Trump,” Jammal said. “We talked about having a meeting with Donald Trump, and she said she is working on it, and we will be trying to clarify his positions on the Muslim community.”
Reached by phone, Holderfield declined to comment. The Trump campaign’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Trump campaign has also reached out to a mosque in Virginia, said Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Awad said he was in touch with this mosque, he said, but declined to name it because of concerns that it could be targeted in some way.
While Awad accused Trump of being a “bigot” and “threat to world peace,” he said he reluctantly agreed that the American Muslim community needed to engage with the Republican nominee.
“We engage people who make hostile statements. It’s our duty to engage and reach them and make sure they have accurate and balanced information,” he told The Daily Beast. “Is he going to be president of all Americans? In that sense I reluctantly say that people have to engage and talk to him.”
The Trump campaign’s community outreach arm has been working the Republican Muslim Coalition, a small group of GOP Muslims, to interface with the American Muslim community. Saba Ahmed, who runs the group, insists that the community is increasingly open to voting for Trump.
“People are concerned about the Muslim ban, but they also know that it is unconstitutional and will never become law,” Ahmed argued. “He’s just concerned about extreme vetting of anyone who is coming into this country… people want to see a strong leader, and he does seem very concerned with national security.”
The attempts to have Trump appear before a American Muslim audience come at a time where Trump has slightly softened his stance on the issue—he says he no longer favors an absolute ban based on religion, just a ban on immigration from certain countries.
And now it appears he wants to erase the issue as much as he can before Election Day, much like his attempt to wipe his birther campaign from history. By changing his position so many times on so many issues, he’s muddied the waters so much it’s hard to know exactly where he stands.
“As you can see, I’m not very excited” about a meeting between the American Muslim community and Trump, said Awad, the head of CAIR. “Trump has proven himself to be a bigot. He is not ignorant—he is using ignorance to create fear and bigotry towards Muslims.”