Muslims look to their faith as Trump’s policies loom large 

Muslim women participate in the Women’s March on Chicago Jan.21
Muslim women participated in the Women’s March on Chicago Jan.21 to protest what they describe as ‘Islamophobia.’ (Fatemeh Jamalpour/MEDILL)

By Fatemeh Jamalpour

On Inauguration Day, the Downtown Islamic Center in Chicago teemed with over 1,000 Muslims of various skin tones and speaking different languages at the weekly jummah prayer.

They listened carefully to the words of the khateeb, or prayer leader, Usama Canon.

“Many of us feel profoundly worried,” Canon said. “Many of us feel a sense of fear. Some of us feel the same way we did last Friday, the same way we did two Fridays ago, the same way we did two years ago.”

Whether their anxieties are old or new, many Muslims are increasingly concerned that they face an uncertain future under the administration of President Donald Trump – and some are looking to their Islamic faith for ways to face these challenges.

“My faith gives me direction in terms of opposing Trump,” said Rana Jaber, 34, a business analyst. “My religion believes that God is with those who are patient. Hard times come to everybody’s lives.”

Lubna S El-gendi, 32, a Muslim and director of student affairs and diversity at DePaul University, said Islam has never disappointed her. “How people interpreted it and how people have applied it have disappointed me, but the faith itself – that’s the one thing that continues to give me strength.”

Last week Trump stated that he will sign an executive order temporarily banning the entry of people from seven predominately Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

While Trump has said the policy enhances national security, members of the Muslim community see other reasons for his actions.

“He has issued blanket statements about Islam and Muslims repeatedly,” said Mehdi Semati, a communications professor at Northern Illinois University. “Take retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as Trump’s pick for national security adviser. Flynn’s history of ignorant and incendiary statements about Islam is well-documented.”

Other Muslims say that such rhetoric can spread Islamophobia, which Sana Rizvi, 21, a senior in political science at Loyola University Chicago, said is her main concern about Trump’s presidency.

“The day he got elected, I was afraid to get on the train, and my parents were more scared for me,” said Rizvi, who attended the women’s protest march against Trump on Saturday in Chicago.

Finding common cause and engaging with non-Muslims is also seen as important. “I will try to get through these four years having as many dialogues as I can with people that I disagree with who think that he is going to make America a great country,” Rizvi said.

“The bigger challenge is to have a dialogue with those people who voted for him.”

Semati noted that some Muslims are talking about making alliances with other marginalized groups. “They have also called for sustained engagement with their elected officials in Congress and at the local level,” he said.

Others, though, will continue to rely on their faith. Mohammed Altaf Kaiseruddin, vice chairman of the Downtown Islamic center, said, “Just put your faith in Allah and in the hope that there are good people out there – and just be the best version of yourself to help make the world better.”

Muslim women participated in the Women’s March on Chicago Jan.21 to protest what they describe as ‘Islamophobia.’ (Fatemeh Jamalpour/MEDILL)