The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the Muslim ban case April 25. It’s a legal tussle that many American Muslims and Americans perceived to be Muslim are watching closely, and for good reason: The ban has extended beyond public policy and has also increased islamophobic rhetoric, harassment and hate crimes.
That’s why this month, we’ve been speaking to Muslims (and those targeted because they’re perceived to be Muslim) about how the current political climate is impacting their lives in the United States.
This includes people like Sundus Taher, who was born in America to parents from Iran and Pakistan. Taher, like many Muslims, understands that hate crimes and racism aren’t things that began and spiked only during President Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and current administration.
But, as she told Church & State: “The difference now though is that racists are empowered because they’re even more sure that the [man in the] highest position in the nation backs them up.”
“It’s gotten pretty ugly under the [Trump] administration... Every time I land in the country they ask to go through my phone, ask me ridiculous questions about my family, ethnicity and faith. All of this began a couple days after the Muslim ban although I was born in the U.S. and don’t have any traces of Iran – a banned country – on my U.S. passport,” Taher said.
Others, like Samra Arshed, an American Muslim, constantly worry about their family members becoming a victim of hate crimes.
“I have lived in Maryland for almost 20 years now, but have not felt as isolated from my community as I do since the introduction of the Muslim Ban,” Arshed said. “The same people that I considered friends and neighbors were beginning to alienate my family and overwhelm us with loaded questions about why we support a religion that molded so many aspects of my life. Stories have spread about hate crimes and safety, and all I can think about is my elderly, long-bearded, broken-English speaking father falling victim to this hate.”
Arshed’s concern is not without merit. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey revealed that half the respondents in Pew’s survey said that being Muslim in America has become more difficult in recent years, with only 3 percent saying it’s become easier. The most common reasons cited for the difficulties include “statements about Muslim extremists in other countries, misconceptions and stereotyping about Islam among the U.S. public, and [President Donald] Trump’s attitudes and policies toward Muslims.”
The Muslim ban and the islamophobic rhetoric associated with it isn’t just hurting Muslims. For a handful of the American population that’s perceived to be Muslim because of their ethnicity or skin color, the ban and Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has caused harm in their communities and made them feel like outsiders.
After Trump won the election, Rasha Kathawa, a Catholic Iraqi-American who aspires to be a filmmaker, told Church & State that she “felt like I did not belong here [America], that this was not a place for me anymore.”
Kathawa cited Trump's anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric as the biggest factors for this, since people often perceive her to be Muslim since she’s from Iraq. She added that even if she were Muslim, hate speech, harassment and other forms of bigotry would be unacceptable.
This is unfortunately the reality of many marginalized communities. According to South Asian Americans Living Together, a nonprofit that advocates for the civil rights of the South Asian community in the United States, between Nov. 9, 2016, and Nov. 7, 2017, more than 300 incidents of violence and xenophobic hate speech aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities in the U.S. were reported, with the majority of the perpetrators intending harm because they perceived their victims to be Muslim.
Racism often intersects with religious discrimination in many ways. Seid Suleyman, an Ethiopian-American student pharmacist, recalled that having to deal with religious and racial discrimination while navigating his place within American society has been a personal struggle.
“Being an African Muslim and American was always complicated. You were living in two worlds and fighting two fights for acceptance in this country,” Suleyman said. “But after the Muslim ban, things turned intense. Some became more empowered to speak on their prejudices, both racially and religiously. Policies like this are a dangerous step backwards.”
We agree. That’s why we urged the Supreme Court to be on the right side of history by blocking the ban.
These are real people with important stories to share. Throughout the month of April leading up to the Muslim ban arguments, we will be sharing stories of how the Muslim ban broadly impacts marginalized communities in the U.S. through discrimination, hate speech and crime and more.
Our country is at its best when people of all religions feel welcome here. For people of all faiths and for people who don’t claim any faith at all – religious freedom means that the law treats everyone equally regardless of faith. Americans United will continue to protect this ideal no matter what discriminatory policies the Trump administration tries to implement.