Muslims in Greensboro reflect on the coming Trump administration
When Maher Said’s friends asked him who he was voting for in the American Presidential election, he said: “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump. He’s going to give me free tickets to go home.”
Said is one of 13 children from Palestine. He is the owner of Nazareth, a Middle Eastern restaurant and a wholesale bakery in Greensboro. He calls America “the greatest country in the world.” He rocks with laughter as he tells his joke, but he still shakes his head as he leans back in a booth.
“I did not like Hillary Clinton for nothing,” Said said. “This lady made so many mistakes. But Trump? He is like Saudi Arabia. He has no respect for women or foreigners.”
On the night of the Ohio State stabbings, we traveled to Nazareth and met with Hadis Daqiq, a nineteen-year old refugee from Afghanistan. Daqiq wore a black down jacket. We ate lamb sandwiches in one of the other booths and occasionally watched the footage of the attack over our shoulders.
“They keep saying it,” Daqiq said.“‘All Muslims are terrorists. All Muslims are terrorists.’ After the election I just wanted to, I don’t know, just go to sleep. I wasn’t depressed but I just didn’t want to do anything. I felt insecure.”
Daqiq remembers the beginning of the wars.
“When the Americans first came they were like our favorite uncles,” said Daqiq. “They would come down the streets in the tanks and give us candy. I was one of the children running behind the tanks. I loved America.”
Last summer, Daqiq returned to Afghanistan. She remembers walking through a busy dusty street and seeing a malnourished young boy selling used plastic bags to strangers. When asked what she would say to Donald Trump if he were in Nazareth, she says:
“I would say put yourself in my shoes and visit Afghanistan and meet that five year old boy who sells the used plastic bags because his father is sick and his mother can’t work. What would you do? Put yourself in my shoes is what I would say. Am I a terrorist?”
Izzy Mohamed, a member of the Muslim Student Association at the University of North Carolina Greensboro whose family immigrated from North Sudan, says that if Trump were to ever come to her, she knows what she would say, as well.
“Come to Mosque,” said Mohamed. “Come into my house. Let me show you true Muslim hospitality. Talk to me. We are not terrorists. We are human beings. I would say read the Qu’ran and I would show him passages where it says that to kill one or to hurt one is to hurt all of humanity. This is not terrorism.”
Daqiq does not wear the hijab. Mohamed does.
“I didn’t wear the hijab for awhile,” she says. “I was living a wild life, straying from God.”
The hijab is usually worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty. In the Qu’ran, the hijab refers to a literal curtain separating men and women. In places like Aceh, Iran and Saudi Arabia, wearing the hijab is required. Mohamed started wearing hers immediately after the election.
“I don’t want to be afraid,” said Mohamed “I am proud of who I am.”
Izher Akbhar, the owner of the Madina Market, does not entirely share Daqiq and Mohamed’s skepticism about the new President. He stands behind his cash register.
“I accept it. He has a big mouth,” Akbhar said. “He should control his mouth. But he is against the establishment.”
Akbhar has been watching Trump’s behavior since the election and feels cautiously optimistic.
“Hillary Clinton was the purely bureaucratic woman. If she had been President, she would’ve continued the same policies. Donald Trump—I think he wants to change the policies.”
When asked what, specifically, gives him reason for feeling optimistic, Akbhar points to Trump’s retreat on certain claims from the campaign.
“Whatever he tweet about the Muslims and the Muslim community, he erased. He erased it,” Akbhar said. “It means he is a serious person. I noticed it. These things show he will think in a positive way, especially toward the Muslim community.”
Izzy acknowledges that there was a moment when she thought she might be wrong about the new President:
“There was the moment of doubt at the convention when he reached out at the LGBT community and I thought, okay, maybe if he can see that they are people, maybe he will treat us as people, too. Maybe this is good.”
Said’s skepticism is palpable. If it had been up to him and his 17-year-old daughter, Naima, the new President would be Bernie Sanders.
“You see, we are not anti-Semitic,” he said. “We have nothing against Jewish people.”
“I have so many Jewish friends,” Naima said.
Said trusted Sanders. He respected his courage.
“Remember: [Sanders] said why is nobody listening to Palestine?” said Said. “He is a man who can look at things fairly. And he’s Jewish. It doesn’t matter who you are. We need a President like that. This man was fair. Sometimes you have to get out of the circle and look at things.”
Naima, however, is not as optimistic that Sanders would have made a significant impact.
“It’s not just the President. It’s the government,” Naima said. “Even if Bernie had gotten elected, he couldn’t have done anything. Until the government learns how to cooperate, the President doesn’t mean anything.”
Naima is a senior in high school. She can often be found studying in the booths of Nazareth. Already she claims she can see the impact of the election.
“I’m a high schooler,” she says. “So I’ve experienced ignorance. Kids learn from their parents. I have a lot of Trump supporters from my school, and whatever, that’s you. But it’s our job, as the next generation, to change that.
“We just don’t understand how privileged we are. We are living the life. Donald Trump has lived the life his entire life. He doesn’t understand other people’s lives. I just feel our generation needs to stop, just stop with these racist ideologies.”
We at YES! Weekly want to know how we can all come together and change. If the presidential election was a rejection of the establishment, what kinds of policies do the folks in the Muslim community want to see shift in the coming years? Where does the conversation need to start?
“History goes back before 9/11,” Daqiq says.
Zhihong Chen, a Muslim history professor at Guilford College encourages people to recognize that Islam cannot be treated as a monolith.
“A few Muslims cannot speak for all Muslims,” she says. “There are more than one billion Muslims in the world. Islam is a very diverse religion. The more people understand the diversity of all Muslims, the less they would feel fearful of Muslims.
“The best thing is to get to know a Muslim in person so that Islam is not just an abstract concept.”
Said, whose brother, Mazan, was deported back to Palestine by the Obama administration, is concerned about increasingly aggressive immigration policies. However, like Daqiq, he believes the conversation cannot just start with the post 9/11 world and the war on terror.
“It starts with punishing the people of Palestine for what the Nazis did,” said Said. “Why did we get punished? Why all of these people get taken from their homes? If you don’t solve this, you don’t solve the Middle East. It all goes back to this, not anything else.
“We don’t want to blow things up. People aren’t like that. We don’t want to hurt people. But you treat people like dogs, and what happens? What happens to a dog when you slap it and slap it again and slap it again? What do you think the dog will do?”
Akbhar, who is from Karachi, Pakistan, rings up a customer with her cell-phone tucked into the left cheek of her hijab. Akbhar says he wants to see Trump intervene in Kashmir, the contested land between Pakistan and India. Chen is deeply concerned about the possibility of a registry.
Naima, returning to immigration, puts the issue in blunt terms because she lives it every day here in America. She misses her Uncle Mazan and doesn’t think it’s fair that he was deported for stealing a recipe book.
“Remember when Obama said anybody who has a felony we are going to ship him back home?” said Naima. “See. That makes our lives harder because we have one less owner here.
“Who has to come in and do more hours? Me. Who has to come in and do more hours? Him,” she said, nodding toward her father. “We can’t take breaks anymore.”
Marie Sanda, a customer at the Madina Market, is frustrated by Trump’s treatment of women. She wears a silver sequined hijab and a black leather coat and as she stands by a display for Aladdin candy, her hands fly in and out of her pockets.
“Without women, he is nobody,” said Sanda. “Women brought him in this life. He passed from two legs of woman. First, he has a daughter. Second, he has a wife. He sleeps with a woman every night, with his wife, so because of that, he needs to respect women.”
Sanda came to Greensboro eleven years ago from Niger, the West African country sandwiched between Mali and Chad.
“I think America is number one,” said Sanda. “I have been all over the world. Paris, everywhere. This country is great and don’t deserve Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t have respect for no one. Muslims, Christians, the whole world.”
Mohamed believes Islam has more respect for women than Trump does.
“Islam values the woman above the man in many ways,” Mohamed said. “Muhammad’s wife, Khadija, was more successful in life than he was. Who you are is seen in the way you treat the women of your life, your mother and your sister and your wife.”
Daqiq believes we could all stand to learn from the Muslim women she worked with last summer in the schools of Afghanistan.
“You have never met people with such bravery and ethics,” said Daqiq. “It is easier if you are American to not do certain things, but when you have nothing, it is really hard.”
Some people, like Leah Whetten-Goldstein and her mother’s Muslim girlfriend, Arzu Ozoguz, are now worried about their friends and family abroad.
“I don’t think there is going to be a registry,” said Whetten-Goldstein, a student at Guilford College. “I truly don’t think that’s on the top of Trump’s list. As far as policies go, I really don’t see much happening.”
Regardless, Whetten-Goldstein considers many of Trump’s supporters to be just as scary as Trump.
“The fact that Trump said this stuff and got elected president makes other people feel like they can do that,” she said. “Despite if these policies happen or not, the fear is super real.”
In the aftermath of the election, Mohamed is not quite ready to say goodbye to Barack Obama.
“We loved Obama,” said Mohamed. “All Muslims loved Obama. We had little things like with the deaths from the wars, but, yeah, we loved him.”
In spite of her fears, Chen believes the Muslim community in the U.S. can make it through a Trump presidency.
“A few years ago I sat in a class taught by a religious studies adjunct,” said Chen. “She taught a class on Islam in the U.S. and it was a tremendous learning experience for me.
“By the end of that class, as a Muslim, I felt tremendously proud of the actions a number of people in the U.S. have taken to promote diversity, understanding, and interfaith work.”
A young white man in a toboggan and a navy blue down jacket approaches Said as he debates with Naima about whether or not the world can change.
“Assalamu Alaikum,” said the young man, meaning “the peace be upon you.”
“Alaikum Salaam,” said Said, meaning “peace be unto you.”
The two shake hands. Said returns to the debate with his daughter, customers all around under the black and white checkered ceiling eating lamb and rice, hummus and falafel, chicken chops and cookies.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Naima said. “But words lead to action. Like these kids at my school who are always like build the wall and send the immigrants home and Make America Great Again.”
“Nothing’s going to change,” said Said. “I look at the American situation and at the end of the day, if you get into politics, you will realize there’s a code. Don’t mess with Israel. Don’t mess with these. Don’t mess with these. There’s a red light for this. A red light for that.”
“Papa,” Naima said. “Things can change, can’t they?”
Naima studies her father’s face.
Said shakes his head and smiles.
Less than a mile down the road, Sanda attends to her customers at a new Greensboro restaurant, Marie’s African Cuisine. Across the street at The Madina Market, Akbhar and his employees sell products from all over the world. They sell Turkish coffee, Pakistani tea and meat they butcher fresh every Friday.
“I am really sincere. I love the USA. I am loyal,” Akbhar said. “When I came here I was in High Point and then Greensboro and very few families were here when I first moved. Now it is a big community here. It means this area, especially Greensboro, it is a growing area. And if the people are coming it means they have got a job or they are doing business and that is how they are surviving with their families.”
In Greensboro, the Muslim community as a whole will continue to be strong.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Sunni or Shia here,” said Daqiq. “Here, we are all together.”