Early Wednesday morning, Chicago-area physician Ume Khan and her husband Asif woke their two kids to talk to them about Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Islamophobia, and the Khan family’s place in this country as American Muslims.
For over an hour, they answered questions and reassured 9-year-old Rayya and 13-year-old Azmer that “America is a democratic country and no one can do anything to harm us.” She told them that no one has “the right to make them feel bad about their culture, race, religion, or anything else. We need to believe whatever we believed before [Trump] came in.”
But, despite her guarantees to her children, Khan says, “I’m really mad. How could he get away with it?”
Across America, similar conversations unfolded in living rooms and classrooms and offices, on Twitter and television and street protests in major cities. How could he get away with it? they asked. Muslims are mad. Muslims feel betrayed. Muslims fear a rise in harassment and hate crimes and surveillance. The Trump campaign’s comments throughout the election cycle vilifying the Muslim community and religion, and his statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” made the idea of a President Trump feel like “a ridiculous joke,” in Khan’s words. If this election was a referendum on values, culture, and identity, Trump’s victory was a slap in the face to multicultural America.
“I thought we lived in a country where everyone is broad-minded, where race doesn’t matter anymore,” Khan says, whose affluent Cook Country suburb went for Clinton by wide margins and where Democrats picked up a Senate seat with Tammy Duckworth’s win over Mark Kirk. “This opened our eyes. Now we know how divided we are.”
But others say that this dissonance — between the ideal of a colorblind, equal-rights America and the reality of white, economically and politically frustrated America that overwhelming voted for Trump (58 percent of white voters, according to a Pew Research election report) — is nothing new. Pooya Mohseni, an Iranian-American trans actress who plays Zarmina on the USA show Falling Water, says: “It’s not the first time I’ve felt this hate, this marginalization. At some point, you realize that trying to convince people who think that people of color or women from a trans background don’t deserve the same rights is like trying to drill through concrete with a spoon.”
In an Instagram post on Wednesday morning, she described the “hate” the election results had made her aware of, as “a trans woman, an immigrant, a woman of Muslim background, and a woman of color.” She tells me that, “the symbol of their patriarchy is Donald Trump” but vowed to keep speaking, writing, and acting to tell the stories of others like her.
Outside Kansas City, Mahnaz Shabbir, who runs a strategic consulting firm and is a community activist speaking about Islam and Muslim-American relations in her area, also grappled with the question of “where did all this hate come from?” On Wednesday morning, after watching the election results with three generations of her American Muslim family, she cancelled her 7:30 a.m. meeting to “spend time by myself healing.” Watching Clinton and Obama’s “class-act” concession speeches helped this process, and tears streamed down her eyes as Clinton “spoke from the heart.”
And despite all of Trump’s “fanning of the flames” during the election cycle, she tells me that his acceptance speech was a meaningful step in the right direction: “He was almost a different person.” She’s hopeful that wounds can be healed. “People have to go through the grieving process. Once they go through it, it depends on how Donald Trump comes across. If he lives up to his acceptance speech, things will be better and his followers will listen to him.”
Yet, some Muslim women were happy with Trump’s victory — like Saba Ahmed, the founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition. Ahmed became a feminist Muslim icon last year when she faced off against Trump spokesman Katrina Pearson on Fox News in an American flag hijab, arguing against the wholesale shutdown of mosques in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. Despite this and the many other examples of the bigotry and ignorance by the Trump campaign on Islamic issues, Ahmed’s vote went to Trump. “I feel my values aligned with the Republican party,” she explains.
Ahmed discounts fears that hate crimes, including harassment of hijab-wearing women like herself, will increase, citing the Constitution’s protection of civil liberties. “This is a country that values religious freedom,” she says. “I myself wear [the hijab] every day and feel quite comfortable. A lot of the ignorance in the Republican party is because we haven’t been involved, and we’ve strayed from our own conservative beliefs. If we were involved in the GOP, that would make a huge difference.”
Looking ahead to the next four years, she says, “It’s a two-way street. Both sides need to get over their fears and meet each other halfway.”
But in California, Nahida Nisa, 25-year-old founder of Islamic feminist website The Fatal Feminist, is talking “revolution.”
“I accept that we’re going to reach a breaking point,” says Nisa, whose distrust of Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy approach led her to vote for Jill Stein. “If it’s not now, it’s going to be soon. There’s no way the KKK can endorse a president and there can be any illusion of a united country. There’s going to be some kind of revolution, and that’s maybe what we need.
Nisa says that it’s on Muslims now to “stand in solidarity with others [Trump] is oppressing” like “blacks, undocumented immigrants, and the LGBTQ community” as the only way to move forward. “We can’t expect the entire country to take a step forward unless we are willing to play a part in the revolution which would mean supporting others. It would be hypocritical to expect justice done to us when we haven’t been just to other people.”
Shabbir has a gentler take, though she agrees that political action and “putting ourselves out there” is the answer. Otherwise, hate triumphs through ignorance and misunderstanding.
“You have to ask yourself, what did you do in this last election?” she says. “The vote is the icing on the cake. But did you make the cake? Did you knock on doors? Did you make phone calls? Did you contribute to the campaign? If you didn’t do that, there’s another election in two years, start working toward that.”