Ramadan, which begins at sundown on Friday, May 26, is intended to be a time of spiritual renewal for Muslims worldwide. But thanks to Donald J. Trump, this Ramadan has many American Muslims fearing a spike in hate crimes against our community and concerns that our places of worship could be attacked or burned to the ground. No religious community in 2017 America should have to fear their safety simply because of their faith, but that’s where the Muslim community finds itself today.
“I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at least a little apprehensive about Ramadan this year,” said Maha Elgenaidi, executive director of Islamic Networks Group. “We know that there’s been a spike in anti-Muslim as well as anti-Jewish hate crimes in the past 18 months, so it’s always in the back of my mind.”
To make matters worse, points out Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates, one of the nation’s most notorious anti-Muslim hate groups, Act for America, “is organizing anti-Muslim protests in at least 23 cities during Ramadan.” (Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is on the board of directors of this hate group.) That means American Muslims in these 23 cities going to their place of worship will likely be taunted by vile anti-Muslim bigots led by their ringleader in hate, Hanah Kahwagi, known by the alias of Brigitte Gabriel, who has preached that practicing Muslims “cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”
Muslim Advocates is so concerned that for the first time ever it has included on its website a page titled “Ramadan and Arson Awareness” that suggests appropriate steps to protect mosques and worshippers. And for good reason, given that CNN reported that between January and March of this year, 35 American mosques were targeted with threats, vandalism, and arson.
American Muslims have been through a lot in the past decade in terms of demonization and hate crimes. The community is resilient and has grown a thick skin. And every Muslim I spoke with made it clear they will not be intimidated by the bigots and that they plan to celebrate Ramadan like every other year.
But this year is there one big elephant in the room that we have not had to contend with before: Donald Trump. As Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) explained, “We have a greater concern this Ramadan that any time in the past given Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric during the past presidential campaign and the spike in anti-Muslim hate incidents.”
Who can forget Trump declaring “Islam hates us,” or his lie that “thousands” of American Muslims cheered in New Jersey on 9/11, and of course his call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering America? Trump’s hateful words no doubt played a role in the alarming 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015 (as documented by the FBI) when compared to the year before. And just two weeks ago, CAIR released a report noting that in 2016, anti-Muslim hate crimes had jumped a frightening 44 percent from 2015 levels.
These hate crimes include many by self-professed Trump supporters, such as the man who burned down a mosque in Orlando in September. There was another by a woman who attacked two hijab-wearing women while they were pushing a baby stroller in New York City. And in September at least one of three men calling themselves “The Crusaders” (as in Christian Crusaders) was arrested for plotting a terrorist attack in Kansas to kill Muslim immigrants living there was a self-identified Trump fan. (If these three “Crusaders” were Muslims, I’m sure you would have heard about them.)
And there’s also a concern voiced by American Muslims about what happens if ISIS or ISIS-inspired attacks spike during Ramadan, as we saw last year. How will Trump respond? Will he gin up fears of Muslims that will no doubt inspire hate crimes against our community?
Or will Trump be more measured, dubbing the attackers “evil losers,” as he did recently in response to the Manchester terror attack? While the phrase “evil losers” was met with scorn by many, to be blunt it’s far better than Trump saying “Islam hates us” or even using the term “radical Islam” to describe terrorists. And as former FBI agent Ali Soufan mentioned on my SiriusXM radio show this week, “evil losers” is also far more helpful in countering ISIS’ sales pitch than Trump using words legitimizing ISIS’ false claim that their actions are actually about Islam.
In fact, Trump could play a role in countering the concerns of the American Muslim community. One symbolic gesture would be to hold a White House Iftar (the meal breaking the fast at sunset each night during Ramadan) as every president has done since 1996. To be clear, that would not in any way make up or excuse Trump for demonizing Muslims this campaign. But at least it sends a message to Trump’s supporters that he views American Muslims as part of the fabric of the nation and that he just don’t love wealthy Muslims in Saudi who bestow upon him huge a gold necklace. (The White House has not announced if it will be a holding an Iftar.)
White House Iftar or not, Muslims have long been a part of the fabric of America. Indeed, Muslims were here before the United States was even the United States, as 10 to 15 percent of African slaves were Muslim. And today the American Muslim community is thriving.
So to the bigots, get used to us. We aren’t going anywhere—especially when one-third of our community is African American. We are proudly both American and Muslim. And despite what the bigots want you to believe, there’s no contradiction in being both. In fact, we are truly the living manifestation of “E Pluribus Unum.”