Q: What did you make of the election results?
A: I think a lot of people were in shock, but I think a lot of people in my circle knew that I was expecting a Trump win despite my not wanting it, only because I think we very much underestimate the existence of these kinds of sentiments in our country. And it’s not even necessarily racism, which certainly is alive in a lot of the voter blocs that Trump won, but it’s how much people prioritized race. Trump appealed to the anti-establishment people who were upset with the government, people who were underserved. So that part makes sense, but were those people willing to give up that vision because of race? I don’t think many are. A lot of people think we’re in a post-racial society because we have a black president, but as a Muslim American these sentiments are there. I definitely interact on a daily basis with people who would not be willing to prioritize [racial justice] over what is in their own interest. It’s not a question of whether people are racist or not, it’s a question of how much of a deal-breaker the issue of racism is for them.
Q: So you didn’t interpret [the election results] as a vote against Muslims and minorities?
A: No, I think it still has that meaning. [But] one thing I kept telling my friends while this was happening is that we cannot equate Trump winning to everybody hating minorities. It’s more complex. We are willing to put certain things, maybe safety and security, above social justice, but ultimately it’s a human thing to do. If it’s an experience you don’t understand or you don’t see the importance of, then of course you’re going to pick what is advantageous to you or the people who you live amongst. So I wouldn’t want to say that Trump winning equals racism being alive in America, but I think I would also be wrong to say that it doesn’t. It’s a little bit more nuanced than that.
Q: Since you weren’t surprised, how did that affect your reaction to Trump’s win?
A: I wouldn’t say I very much expected it. I was in a position where I wouldn’t be surprised if he won but I’d be very disappointed, because I would want my country to stand for what I believe to be superior values. But my reaction was very much rooted in faith. Ultimately we do our part, we obviously go out to vote, we try to mobilize to vote, we do registration drives, we do everything we can, and it is all part of Allah’s master plan. Also, we don’t know what is best for us ultimately. I know it sounds crazy to say that there are positives that come with a Trump presidency, but the Democratic Party is going to wake up. They took our votes for granted — they thought minorities would always be on their side. Let them see what we mean when we say that they have deep problems that they need to reassess. I mean, they look at African Americans in terms of the criminal justice system or poverty. They look at Muslims in terms of terrorism. That is not what these identity groups represent. Hopefully voter turnout will force the Democratic Party to wake up and start thinking about that stuff. But that’s not to [underestimate the impact of the election results on] the vulnerable, the poor, the minorities. The underprivileged will suffer, so I don’t want to underestimate that.
Q: So where do we go from here?
A: We want to make sure we address community healing and that the youth still feel strong and proud of their identity. After healing, which is going to be a long process, we want people to channel this energy, anger, passion, whatever it is that they’re feeling, into action. This is going to force us to build coalitions, this is going to force us to partner with minority groups, which has been, of course, the tradition of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), and it’s finally going to wake people up so they think it’s important to value these things. But that can happen after the healing, because people are fearful right now. I wouldn’t be honest to say that the community is doing okay. There have been documented attacks across the country but that’s just the physical and tangible stuff. People are processing this differently. For some it’s made them stronger, for some it’s scared them and made them question their sense of belonging. I want to make sure there’s a space for fixing that too.
[I want to] emphasize again how much of this is informed and rooted in faith for me, that the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) would pray all night to prepare himself for the day. That Islam, in a lived sense, is not just praying in a mosque. It’s being out there on the front lines, being active, fighting for social justice for all people, for equal representation. These kinds of things are very much informed by faith, and it’s not the faith that I think the media represents for me, or any candidate will represent for me. And that’s how we hopefully want to reclaim that narrative ourselves, in showing the beauty of Islam through work for the community and through activism.