(CNN) President Donald Trump’s speech Sunday will likely be met with skepticism and frustration in the Muslim world, according to experts in the Middle East who said his sudden shift in tone on Islam was unconvincing.
No American president in modern times has disparaged Islam as much as Donald Trump. From the attempted visa ban on Muslim-majority countries to his campaign claims that “Islam hates us” to his Islamaphobic advisers, the president’s record of hostility is well documented.
So his first overseas trip as president is something of a paradox, with a first stop in Saudi Arabia — a major force in the Sunni Arab world —- that includes meetings with members of the royal family, a summit meeting with other Arab leaders and a major speech on Sunday.
Does that mean Mr. Trump has changed his stripes? Given his casual approach to the truth and his malleable belief system, it’s impossible to know his true views on Islam. What we do know is that he needs all the help he can get from Muslim countries to fight the Islamic State. If he uses the speech and the trip to set a new tone with the Muslim world, that would be greatly in America’s interest.
The Saudis, who came to loathe President Barack Obama, are falling over themselves to turn the page. Mr. Trump’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia “lays to rest the notion that America is anti-Muslim,” the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told reporters early this month, ignoring the fact that the real issue is not whether America is anti-Muslim but whether Mr. Trump is. It was he, after all, who stoked xenophobic fires to win the election.
On the February night that President Trump unveiled his travel ban on immigrants from Muslim countries, Samir Malik, a 31-year-old tech developer whose parents are from Pakistan, was on his way to dinner in Brooklyn.
Text messages buzzed on his phone. Activist friends of his were on the way to JFK airport to protest. He worried, would his friends and family be affected?
Malik found comfort in the Orthodox Jewish family of six that had invited him to dinner.
“How are you feeling? Do you feel cared for?” his Jewish host asked Malik and his wife, also Muslim, with roots in India.
The gesture was encouraging. The dinner was part of an initiative to bring together Muslims and Jews for small home-cooked meals through New York City. There have been two rounds of these interfaith dinners since February, each drawing around 100 participants.
“The idea is for people who don’t interact as much to have an opportunity to get to know each other,” said Lonnie Firestone, a Modern Orthodox Jew and freelance writer from Brooklyn who is spearheading the effort.
The genesis of this project for Firestone was the election of Donald Trump, which shocked many liberals. On the heels of a divisive and polarizing campaign season, Firestone wanted to organize something that would bring people together.
“Trump’s campaign had fostered an inhospitable environment toward Muslims and to a lesser but still notable degree toward Jews, I felt that Jewish and Muslim Americans should become better advocates for one other,” Firestone said.
Interfaith work like this, of course, is not new. But bringing Jews into Muslim home, and Muslims in Jewish homes for home-cooked meals, felt both urgent and untested to Firestone.
The dinners are organized alongside a string of New York organizations, both Jewish and Muslim. Participants have come from Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim; the progressive “GetOrganizedBK” group; the Altshul minyan, an egalitarian Brooklyn minyan also in Brooklyn; the Prospect Heights Shul ; the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee; the Islamic Center at NYU and a group called Muslim Urban Professionals.
Washington: Fatima Salman, spoke to others outraged over the President’s executive order of ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Within 17 hours, they were able to reach 10,000 people who organized a protest at Detroit’s airport.
“It was huge. There were people from all walks of life. There were people carrying signs saying, ‘We all Muslims’ written in Arabic, which they’d printed off Google Translate. Some of them were spelled wrongly, but it was very sweet,” said Ms Salman, 39, a social worker.
The protest showed the way Americans responded to the President’s executive orders by uniting and not lying down. As Trump marks 100 days in the White House, people in Detroit from various ethnicities, communities and religions have come together in an unprecedented way to try to protect those at risk to being detained and deported.
Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered for rallies. Congregants from a Latino catholic church marched to a local mosque, while Muslims came out in solidarity with people from Mexico and Central America.
“You have 120 languages in Detroit. In a five mile radius of where you are, there are 70,000 Arab Americans,” said Hassen Jaber, chief executive of Access, a group that works to help the Arab-American community.
“When the travel ban happened, the community mobilised immediately. We had activists getting involved who we’d never heard of before calling for mass demonstrations.”
“The key feature of the response is that different groups and communities have worked to support one another. The Latino community has been hit particularly hard. People have been giving power of attorney in case they are deported,” he said.
FULL ARTICLE FROM SIASAT (Arabic for “Politics”)
Hassan Minhaj asked the question himself when he hosted the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday night: “Who would have thought, with everything going on in the country right now, that a Muslim would be standing on this stage?”
Even with the typical guest of honor noticeably absent, “The Daily Show” senior correspondent was a notable pick for the event — the first Muslim and first South Asian American to headline the annual Washington roast.
It took him just 30 seconds into his 25-minute set to bring up his religion.
Minhaj pulled from a comedy repertoire built on his experience as a member of a marginalized minority in America, from racist bullying in high school to recent hate crimes against Muslims.
Over the past few months, the 31-year-old has watched the Trump administration reshape the news media that his show comments on. Events have intensified his brand of socially conscious comedy and affected his own immigrant family. After the election, Minhaj told viewers that his mother was afraid that the ban on Muslims that Trump proposed during the campaign would keep her from returning to the country.
The comedian, who considers himself an “angry optimist,” voiced both frustration and honor on behalf of his faith during Saturday’s speech. “As a Muslim, I like to watch Fox News for the same reason I like to play ‘Call of Duty.’ Sometimes, I like to turn my brain off and watch strangers insult my family and my heritage,” he jabbed.
At the end of the night, he said, “Only in America can a first-generation Indian Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”
Abdul Taleb has run Mi Carnal market for 12 years. It’s a corner grocery store on busy Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland. People in this low-income neighborhood, known as the San Antonio district, stop in to buy fresh mangoes or cuts of meat.
In this neighborhood, where 42 percent of the residents are foreign-born according to the latest available Census estimates, customers might come from Mexico, Guatemala or Cambodia. East Oakland, the 94601 zip code, is nearly half Latino, 20 percent black and 20 percent Asian. One of Taleb’s customers is Dan Schmitz, who for nearly 30 years has lived in the Oak Park apartments, just a five-minute walk from Mi Carnal.
“I’ve known and shared meals with Abdul for a long time,” says Schmitz. “That’s just part of the nature of the neighborhood.”
The two men often engage in the kind of chitchat that usually takes place between a shopkeeper and a customer: the weather or the price of milk. And it might have stayed that way, had it not been for Donald Trump winning the presidential election last November. Only after the election did both Schmitz and Taleb realize how much immigration policy factored into their spiritual callings.
Taleb himself is an immigrant; he came to America at age five. His grandfather was the trailblazer of the family, leaving Yemen for the US in the 1970s. The older Taleb first worked as a farmhand in Fresno, and eventually moved to Oakland where he opened a pair of Mi Carnal grocery stores. These are the stores Abdul Taleb now runs.
“I grew up in the neighborhood,” Taleb explains. “I have managed to learn the Spanish language very well so I can communicate with a lot of my customers and friends.”
Schmitz watched Taleb grow up. He came to the neighborhood in 1989 to volunteer with a Christian charity. Now, Schmitz is the lead pastor of the New Hope Covenant Church, located just a few blocks away from Mi Carnal market.
After the election of President Trump, anxiety was high. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates 10 percent of people in the city of Oakland are undocumented.
By Christmas, Schmitz and his congregation — mostly college educated whites and Asians — felt they had to offer their neighbors more than holiday goodwill. So they set up a table in front of one of Taleb’s Mi Carnal markets, handing out gift bags and “know your rights” flyers in both English and Spanish about what to do if you are questioned by immigration agents.
Two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, Nora decided to remove her headscarf – for good. Weighing on the mind of the 23-year-old were recent assaults against conspicuous Muslims like herself. State suspicion and private violence would only get worse under Trump, she feared. So she hid part of her identity from the world.
Many Muslim men and women, like Nora, choose to conceal their Muslim identity – or express it in a way that is less “threatening” to others. Some take things one step further: they undertake the extreme measure of erasing their Muslim identity altogether by passing as non-Muslim in public.
While this phenomenon predates Trump, he has certainly intensified it. Acting Muslim, today, is especially dangerous.
This is illustrated by the scores of Muslim women “afraid to wear the headscarf” after Trump claimed the presidency, men shaving their beards to diminish detection that they are in fact Muslims, job-seekers changing their Muslim names on résumés to increase the prospect of a job interview, and the known and unknown stories of Muslims passing as non-Muslims at school, work, or the public sphere at large.
This process is also prevalent in Europe, where Islamophobia is more pronounced than it is in the US and fully enshrined into law. The European Union recently broadened France’s 2004 “headscarf ban”, which prohibits Muslim women from wearing the hijab in public schools, to restrict it within the workplace in EU member states.
These policies, combined with the rise of Islamophobic populism throughout the continent, have had a collateral effect on Muslims men and women – pushing many to remove conspicuous markers of religious identity in the public sphere in order to dodge punitive action from the state or bigots on the street.