Lena Felton is a multiplatform editor at The Lily.
Previously, she was a politics editorial fellow at the Atlantic.
In the history textbooks of tomorrow, the experiences of Muslims during the Trump presidency will likely be reduced to the structural and physical violence experienced by Muslims.
There was the Muslim ban, a series of discriminatory executive orders in which President Trump prevented nationals of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, ended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sudan and limited it for Syrians, Yemenis, and Somalis, and drastically lowered the annual refugee admission cap, notwithstanding the fact that numerous Muslim refugees entering the United States are fleeing countries whose violence the United States set the foundation for.
There were the murders of Nia Wilson and Nabra Hassanen, two Black Muslim teenage girls, in Oakland, CA, and Reston, VA, respectively. There were a variety of inexplicable comments Trump made about Islam and Muslims and even more that his supporters made that are often left without question. Yet although these are the more palpable effects of Trump-era Islamophobia, they are by no means exhaustive: much of the pain facing Muslims during the presidency of Donald Trump is deeply psychological.
When asked by Muslim how they are coping with Trump as a world leader, a 15-year old anonymous @Muslim follower stated:
“I was 11 when [Trump] was elected and before that, I didn’t know the magnitude of the world’s Islamophobia and hatred of Muslims. Trump’s reign has already led to the Muslim ban, the Christchurch mosque terrorist attack, and a spike in hate crimes toward Muslims and I fear what is to come if he is re-elected. Everything Trump says is either unintelligent or offensive and he always ends up emboldening deranged racists, sexists, anti-semites, Islamophobes, xenophobes, etc. There are areas of the U.S. that I wouldn’t even dare travel to because of the hatred Trump has instilled in people. The world is becoming more and more unwelcoming to Muslims…”
In late March, we asked our followers – the vast majority of whom are Muslim youth – this same question, in reference to their lives in the United States and the rest of the globe following the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Many of the responses expressed general melancholy and misery. Instagram user @_mariah_davis mentioned that as a “Lebanese-American…I feel like I can’t be both [Muslim and American] under his rule.” She has to be “an outsider and lose half [of her] identity or lose [her] Muslim half.”
This response struck a chord with me – Muslims are often told to forfeit the more discernible aspects of Muslim identity (hijab, topi/kufi, etc.) because Islamic and American identities are presented as mutually-exclusive in the Western imagination.
Trump’s presidency also marked a bit of an eye-opening for some American Muslims: Instagram user @_barelyawake_ notes that it “made [them] realize half [of] this country doesn’t care about anyone else but themselves.”
For many American Muslims, Trump’s election is not something easily dismissed: even without taking into consideration both his blatant and implicit Islamophobia, the marginalized backgrounds that many American Muslims share – from lack of healthcare access to exorbitant student debt – is aggravated by Trump’s presidency.
Various responses spoke of an antithesis to this: instead of feeling dismay concerning Trump’s presidency, it has inspired patience, confidence, and/or political apathy. Instagram user @yasminfenaoui noted that she’s “openly displayed Islam and talked about it more,” indicating that attacks on her Muslim identity inspired newfound expressions of confidence in her faith whereas Instagram user @siddubaba has ignored Trump to avoid “giving [his] supporters a platform or satisfaction by engaging” and to “live life normally,” indicating that allowing violent rhetoric toward American Muslims affect one’s own conception of their identity merely allows Islamophobia to thrive.
Other users noted their heightened desire to see positivity in the little things despite it all or their renewed search for patience amidst the terror. Evident in this, perhaps, is the complex beauty of Islam. Islam is unique in that it signifies both a rationale to oppress and a means to flee oppression: by seeking solace through prayer to Allah (SWT), making dhikr, reading Qu’ran, and more, Muslims are able to find comfort, support, and love despite being criminalized and targeted for their Muslim identity.
The response of @itss_meh__, in particular, stood out from the rest:
“Honestly, [Trump] is not that extreme toward Muslims. Let’s be real: all U.S. presidents, including Obama, [have] done something toward Muslims. They were just not [as straightforward]. No president over the decades has been a saint [toward] the Muslim community. Trump is no different.”
In many ways, this is true: it would be dishonest to claim that President Trump isn’t continuing the legacy of his predecessors. Sure, Obama denounced Islamophobia and Bush said “Islam is peace,” but in what way did either of these men try to deconstruct the structural manifestations of the prejudices Americans have had toward Islam since the first ships carrying enslaved African Muslims arrived on its shores? It’s hard to deduce: under a political climate in which a well-known Democratic political candidate was able to shy away from his past surveillance of New York City’s Muslim communities and relations between different religious groups are seen as an individual political issue as opposed to one that intersects foreign policy, criminal justice, gun violence, and more, it’s understandable that Muslims interpret Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric, albeit abrasive, as not entirely a new development but rather a manifestation of existing sentiments against American Muslims no longer hid behind closed doors.
The wide variety in responses concerning how Muslim youth are coping with the Trump presidency leading into this year’s presidential election only emphasizes the tremendous diversity of the American Muslim community: Just as there is no one Muslim experience, there is no one way to deal with the impact of Trump’s presidency on Muslims. Finding strength during difficult times can be tough, but American Muslims are no stranger to that struggle.
Even in times of great hardship, there is still so much beauty in Muslim resilience.