BAY RIDGE, New York—Despite Donald Trump’s threats in the days leading up to the election to denounce the system as “rigged” if he lost, Muslim Americans are choosing to put their faith in the system amid his victory in a campaign marked by divisive rhetoric.
“Let’s see, let’s wait and see,” said Ayman Sifan, a Palestinian-American who stayed up till dawn watching the election results roll in. “Because even the president, he can’t do everything he wants.”
Trump’s victory in the wee hours Wednesday morning sparked a flurry of online panic. Muslims tweeted fears about wearing the hijab, and whether that outward marker of Islam could make them targets for Trump supporters. Over the course of his campaign, after all, Trump had called for a halt to immigration from Muslim-majority countries, suggested that he’s open to a database to track American Muslims, and said that Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan was silenced by her husband rather than her grief. But in Bay Ridge, home to one of New York’s largest Muslim communities as well as Brooklyn’s only Republican Trump-supporting state senator, hijabs sparkled and abayas billowed as usual on Wednesday.
“It’s like every day,” said Fatiha Hussen, a 45-year-old mother of three.
Muslim-American Brooklynites told The Daily Beast they were weary but cautiously optimistic, hopeful that the safeguards of American democracy and the gravity of the office itself would protect them in a Trump presidency.
“In my heart, I believe there is a system, a law in the United States [that will protect minorities],” Sifan, 52, told The Daily Beast. “I tell my kids, the CIA and the FBI, since [Trump] becomes the president, they start giving him reports and directions.”
Sifan said he is hopeful that the new information from intelligence agencies will restrain Trump’s rhetoric and help him focus on the real issues. “Because [the campaign was] politics. Now, he is the president.”
Yet Hussen, the mother of three, said her kids are anxious. A daughter’s friends are joking about moving abroad, and her oldest, a 17-year-old boy, “says [Trump] is going to kick everyone out,” Hussen said.
And on Tuesday, hours before the election results began coming in, Hussen bought tickets to visit her ailing mother, who needs surgery in Morocco. “I’m worried, now, about the airport,” she said.
Many of the Muslims interviewed by The Daily Beast said their support for Hillary Clinton was reluctant, too. The Democratic candidate famously said Muslim Americans are on the “front lines” of the fight against terrorism, a comment many took as a sign of how she sees the Muslim community.
“She’s bad. He’s worse,” said Nash Nassan, who immigrated from Syria nearly 25 years ago and didn’t vote for either candidate on Tuesday. “[It’s like] if you know someone, and the other person you don’t know at all.”
Others headed to the polls as families, misgivings and all.
“My dad, he always instilled in us: You have to choose the person who’s gonna be the best for everyone,” said Sana Esa. The native Brooklynite added that she worries for cousins overseas, in Yemen, under a Trump presidency, as well as those in the U.S. on visas.
Esa, 28, was hopeful about Barack Obama’s election eight years ago, but she said he fell short of her expectations. “My cousins are telling me about the drones bombing them,” she said. “The truth is, I didn’t really want Hillary, but [Trump] freaks me out.”
But Esa is staying calm for the time being, she said, because what is to come can’t be worse than what the community has already been through. She told The Daily Beast that she remembers the first days after the 9/11 attacks, when the women in her family stayed indoors. The men—who were less obviously recognizable as Muslim—went out for them.
“You felt the hatred everywhere,” she said. “There was one lady down the block who said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ She was the only one.”
At the nearby Arab American Association of New York, a hub for local Muslim organizing, immigration caseworker Marwa Janini spent the morning dealing with stressed-out clients. Some, who had applied for the Deferred Action status offered by the Obama administration, worried about what would happen with the information they had provided to the federal government to be eligible for the program.
“I had two clients that said they had their nieces and nephews crying, because they had friends whose parents were immigrants,” Janini told The Daily Beast while ordering a bagel at a nearby café. “And these are little kids.”
She’d stayed up late into the night watching the results come in after voting for Clinton, despite supporting Bernie Sanders in the primary. With Trump’s unexpected victory came anxiety, and she saw friends posting on social media about moving to Canada to escape.
“I’m like, no no no, I was born in Brooklyn. I was raised in Brooklyn. I’m an American, this is my country,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere, Trump or not. And that’s how I felt about it from the very beginning.”
Janini wore a chic black hijab Wednesday. And while she said she was a little more cautious because of the election, being wary of being visibly Muslim is nothing new.
“This is what Muslim women tell each other. Stay vigilant, stay aware of your surroundings,” Janini said. “After I saw the election results, I realized how divided we are as a country. And we don’t need more divisive rhetoric. We need more community building.”
And Trump even managed to snag a couple of Muslim-American votes in Bay Ridge. Soher Elhawany, 50, moved here from Egypt 10 years ago and cast her vote for Trump on Tuesday.
“He want to change America, he want to build a wall so no Spanish come without papers,” Elhawany said. “I’m very happy, and my husband is very happy.”