Donald Trump ran his campaign for president in part by instilling a strong sense of xenophobia into his supporters. While the southern border wall is a powerful symbol of Trump’s isolationist rhetoric, he has also proposed shutting out immigrants who practice Islam. In Trump’s proposed first hundred days agenda, he says he plans to “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur.” These regions would likely include Syria, but the list could extend to a number of other countries in the Middle East.
Vice News reports that a wave of anti-Muslim attacks have occurred since Trump began running for office in 2015, paralleled in modern history only by attacks that took place after 9/11. Donald Trump has been elected president, and there are real concerns that his inauguration will coincide with the normalization of overt bigotry and a spike in hate crimes. In the face of this bleak reality, we reached out to Salaam Bhatti of the True Islam Campaign. True Islam is a grassroots movement that sprang up in the wake of 2015’s San Bernardino shooting. It was created by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and hopes to connect Americans with their Muslim neighbors and dispel myths about Islam. Some of the group’s initiatives include coffee shop meetups with Muslims that anyone can attend, as well as an online live chat feature, where users can talk with a Muslim and ask any questions they may have. We asked Bhatti to share his thoughts and concerns in the wake of the election, and to give us further background on the True Islam campaign.
Where were you watching the election returns?
I was in my room watching it on TV. And also second screening with Facebook and Twitter. I noticed that it was a tight race the whole way through. And that was really going to be expected if you were looking at the polls. So the result, a lot of people may not like, but it was definitely/not really surprising.
How are you feeling about the result?
We knew that there were a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric happening during the campaign, and what we want to do is make sure that we do not give into the fear of such rhetoric, or the attacks that would happen afterwards as well. We want to continue to keep the doors to our mosques open to everybody to see how we pray, and see what we talk about, and really just to make a Muslim friend. Pew Research reported a couple of years ago that sixty percent of Americans don’t know a Muslim. That number is a little scary because this is why we’re seeing the rise in Islamaphobia, because people just don’t know a Muslim. As a result, they’re scared of that which they don’t understand. Our solution right now is having a grassroots effort of non-Muslims to meet Muslims. That is through this campaign called Coffee Cake and True Islam. So what we do is we have these weekly events at coffee shops and our mosques that allows for an intimate group to come and ask questions about Islam, whatever’s on their minds. We provide coffee and free cake, and we have a great conversation. They’ve been happening for a few months now across the country and people are loving it. It’s really taking hold on a grassroots level.
How did that initiative get started?
It’s part of our True Islam campaign. After the San Bernardino attack President Obama called for Muslim Americans to unite against extremism. So this is the solution we offered, saying “here are eleven points that extremists will use to brainwash the youth to join their cause.” And we take those points and then show what Islam actually says about things like Jihad and freedom of religion. So we show what Islam actually says about Jihad, and what it actually says about women, that women have equal rights and freedom of religion no matter your faith. And this is the message we’re taking to streets, and letting Muslims and non-Muslims know.
Are you guys looking at any specific political actions in the near future?
During the campaign we extended an invite to president-elect Trump to our mosque. That invite remains open to both him and all Americans. We’ll also keep meeting with our respective congress members to talk about the local politics, because all politics is local. We’re here to try to make our communities better places. We volunteer, we help clean up roads, parks, plant trees, host blood drives, and we’re going to keep doing that.
Given some of the things Donald Trump has campaigned on; instating a religion-based immigration ban, for example, what are you expecting to see from the Trump presidency?
Well that rhetoric was definitely hurtful and distasteful as well, and we really do hope that he doesn’t act on what he said. In fact from his victory speech you can see that there’s been like an overnight change in President-Elect Trump. So we really hope that he’s able to lead us on a path to progress, peace, and prosperity because that’s what it sounds like he truly wants to do based on what he said last night.
What message are you hoping to send to that sixty percent of Americans who don’t personally know a muslim?
I’d encourage everyone to visit our website, TrueIslam.com. There’s a great chat feature on there that lets you speak directly with a Muslim. If you have never met a Muslim, if you are afraid to maybe ask your Muslim coworkers and colleagues a question let us be the resource for you. You can reach out at our website, you can check out a Coffee, Cake, and True Islam event near you by visiting our site. Or you can connect with us on social media. We’ve been changing a lot of hearts and minds about what Islam is. People come in thinking that Jihad is a violent thing, but what we show them is Jihad is a nonviolent struggle with ourselves to make ourselves better people. Then their minds and hearts open up.
What’s been your emotional response to this election? It sounds like you’re feeling optimistic, would you agree with that?
I’m definitely optimistic, I’m definitely hopeful. I’ve had so many of my non-Muslim friends reach `out to me, asking if I’m okay. The sun rose, it’s [another] day, we have Trump as our president but that doesn’t change things overnight. We’re not going to give in to fear of emboldened racists. We’re not going to let other people ruin our lives. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve got to do to win the hearts.