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The influx of Central American refugees into the United States has surged dramatically in recent months and has created a humanitarian crisis on the country’s southern border. These refugees are fleeing severe persecution and gang-violence which has created unbearable economic and political instability in their home countries. They undertake the long and dangerous journey with little money, often not knowing where their next meal will come from, with hopes of seeking asylum in the US. Living conditions in their homes countries are so deplorable that these refugees are willing to risk their lives and travel across the desert with hopes of mere survival.
As a response to this crisis, the Trump administration announced a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy at the border this past May. The policy was completely inhumane and had no recognition of the brutal persecution that these refugees are fleeing from. Under this policy, anyone caught crossing into the US by Border Patrol was to be prosecuted for illegal entry, treated as a criminal and sent to jail. As a result, hundreds of refugee families were split when the parents were arrested for crossing the border. The parents were sent to jail, while the children were labelled ‘unaccompanied minors’ and sent to government custody or foster care.
The most appalling aspect of this policy was that there was initially no intent of reuniting these children with their parents. No procedures were placed to keep track of parents and children concurrently or for facilitating communication between them during the time of separation. In many instances the parents were deported back to the countries of origin, while children were still stuck in detention centers. No effort was made to ensure the families were reunited before the fate of the parents is determined. In addition to the physical abuse, the emotional pain these deplorable polices created is unfathomable; one Honduran man committed suicide in his cell after he was separated from his child.
Since there was a complete disregard for basic human rights from the Trump administration, lawyers, activists and community organizations stepped up to fill the void. These bold souls have worked tirelessly to advocate for the rights of these refugees and facilitate reunification of these families.
We highlight here some of the efforts undertaken by the American Muslim community to address this refugee crisis.
Mosque offers to host all child refugees
The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay made an extraordinary offer of hosting all the 2300 children separated at the border from their parents. The mosque, based out of the Tampa, Florida, held a press conference where they announced their intentions for not only hosting the children but also providing for all transportation costs.
“This immoral policy of taking babies from their parent and locking them up must stop, the Muslim community is ready to do its part by hosting these children in loving and safe homes until they are reunified with their parents,” said Ahmed Bedier, president of United Voices for America.
The idea for the initiative came about when the imam of the mosque, Arjan Abu Sa’sd, was approached by congregants expressing a desire to help during the crises. Many in the community are immigrants themselves, so the plight of these refugees hit home. The community then came up with a completely self-funded initiative where members of the community sign up to host the children in their personal homes and take responsibility of their care. Over 100 families had signed up within days of the program being launched. The community also collected pledges to pay for all the transportation costs.
While it remains to be seen if the administration will take up the community on its offer, Imam Arjan feels like he did his part. “The message of Islam is mercy to humanity” he said. “Our faith commands us to be part of the solution and not the problem.”
Protests at rallies and detention centers
Muslim activists and faith leaders actively participated in numerous protests at rallies across the nation.
Imam Omar Suleiman, founder of Yaqeen Institute, joined Dallas-based faith leaders on a trip to a child detention center in McAllen, Texas. During their time there, the coalition witnessed a bus filled with young children at the center. Many surrounded it and tried to block its path in a symbolic gestures of support for these young detainees.
Standing at 6 feet 5 inches, Imam Omar was one of the few who could reach the windows of the bus. An iconic image of him placing his hands on the tinted windows to comfort these young souls went viral on the internet. “We just surrounded the bus, and for me — I saw one of the kids put their hand on the window and I put my hand on the window,” he explained. “I saw some of the children crying, and I started blowing kisses to the children.” The coalition’s visit helped bring attention to the plight of the hundreds of the children being detained at Texas detention centers.
Imam Omar and other Muslims leaders also made strong appearances at the Families Belong Together protests that happened in over 700 cities throughout the country on June 30. CAIR-LA co-sponsored the rally in LA and encouraged Muslims to make their voices heard. “We view the family separation policy and the Muslim ban as connected and part of a broader agenda by the administration,” Muslim Advocates’ Fatima Khan said at the event.
In New Jersey, the American Muslim Action Network (AMAN) was one of the main organizers of June 30th the rally. The Imam of Ibrahim Mosque in Newark, Mustafa El-Emin, reminded the crowd of the importance of social cohesion and diverse tapestry that makes up America. “The beauty of our country is in its diversity, regardless of your religion, your nationality, your race, your color, that’s what America is all about,” he said.
Fundraising for foster care
Of the nearly 2,300 children separated from their parents, over 700 – some as young as 9 years old – were sent to foster care agencies in New York State. They were transported from the border in complete secrecy and local officials had little knowledge or oversight over their conditions. Many of these children had undergone immense trauma, some even displaying suicidal tendencies.
Under the leadership of Imam Khalid Latif, the Islamic Centre of New York University started a fundraising campaign to support these vulnerable child refugees. The goal of the campaign was to raise funds to help provide urgent care to these children and assist them in being reunited with their families. The crowdfunding campaign successfully raised over $45,000 for the New York Immigration Coalition. The coalition will distribute this money to organizations in their networks providing legal services, case workers, social workers, coordination and advocacy to the separated children in New York.
These stories are just a few of the thousands that capture the selfless hard work of ordinary citizens to stand-up to a completely draconian and unjust law. Under immense pressure and public outcry, Trump eventually signed an executive order to repeal this policy. The damage, however, was already done by that time to hundreds of innocent children who not only had to deal with the pain of fleeing their home, but also with the trauma of being torn apart from their parents. It is a shame that the historic injustice of separating families perpetrated by xenophobic governments of past was repeated yet again in the twenty-first century on the same lands.
Image: Nye Armstrong / via Facebook
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Two Muslim women made history Tuesday night as Minnesotans became the first Americans to choose a hijab-wearing Muslim woman as their nominees for a seat in Congress – and in the state legislature.
Ilhan Omar and Hodan Hassan, both Somali-Americans, became the latest in a wave of charismatic, progressive women, to be elected this primary season.
This means this fall election alone could put as many Muslims in Congress as Americans have elected in the past 12 years. And it is worth reflecting on that a single primary election brought us more female Muslim representation in politics than the rest of American history put together.
Omar and Hassan’s victories come on the heels of Rashida Tlaib’s congressional primary win in Michigan. No Republican is currently running in her district, which means the Palestinian-American will likely become the first Muslim woman elected to United States Congress in November.
Hodan Hassan was also chosen by Democrats to run for a spot in the Minnesota state legislature, and if elected, she will follow in the footsteps of Omar, who blazed the trail only two years ago in the same election that made Donald Trump president.
Ilhan Omar was selected Tuesday to represent Democrats in the race for Minnesota’s left-leaning fifth congressional district, after Congressman Keith Ellison announced earlier this year that he would not be seeking reelection, and instead would be running for Minnesota attorney general.
Omar will be battling Republican Jennifer Zielinski this fall for Keith Ellison’s congressional seat, after the six-term congressman announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection, and instead turn his eyes toward becoming Minnesota’s attorney general.
Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006, and he’s held his seat ever since – but in the 12 years since Ellison was elected, the Muslim demographic in America’s federal legislature has barely increased. Andre Carson of Indiana was elected in 2008, but Carson have Ellison have remained the only Muslims in Congress for the last 10 years.
But it appears they won’t be for long.
In the last 10 years, Gaza has endured three major wars, and they are on the brink of war for a fourth right now in 2018. This year, more illegal Israeli settlements have been placed on Palestinian land, angering Palestinians. Additionally this year, the relocation […]
After reading World Hijab Day’s prompt about “Times I’ve been discriminated against in hijab,” I thought back to the most recent incident. Sadly, one of the last times I’d been discriminated against was at my favorite theme park, Universal Studios Hollywood. Park attendees repeatedly rebuffed me, but ironically would then engage with the people around me — including my white companions! The blatant discrimination — ignoring one person, but engaging with another — is what bothers me the most.
At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I complimented a white male wizard’s cosplay, and although he had been joking with others and taking photos, he barely nodded at me, and then walked away. Then, in line to meet Max, the Grinch’s dog, I cheerfully answered a lady’s question about him, but she looked away. But when my (blonde) friend turned around, she chatted animatedly with her.
This reminded me of a similar instance three years ago at the Houston airport: A white lady glared at me, but smiled and put her arm around an Asian girl. Inwardly, I laughed to myself that she was probably complimenting herself on being a welcoming person, as Southerners credit themselves, even though she arbitrarily rejected me.
These incidents made me wonder: Can a person be considered friendly if they are only nice to certain people of color?
Does “Southern Hospitality” still exist if people are literally screaming out car windows at Muslims?
(To be fair, I recently returned to Houston and only encountered the most polite people.)
These incidents made me wonder: Can a person be considered friendly if they are only nice to certain people of color? When I posted the question on Facebook, a colleague replied that maybe that person felt victimized by someone from the excluded group. But no, that is unacceptable, because that is the definition of racism, not mention collective punishment.
A few months ago, I was harassed by a worker by my house. For a few weeks afterwards, I was suspicious of all workers. Then I forced myself to recognize that the incident was one person, that it was an isolated incident, and that most workers are friendly and innocent. If I continued that wary behavior, I’d be guilty of what others do to hijabis and Muslims.
Ironically, perhaps the most disturbing hijab discrimination I’ve experienced, and heard about, is by fellow Muslims. Sometimes I feel as uncomfortable — if not more so — wearing and talking about hijab in front of some Muslims than I do with non-Muslims. And actually, non- Muslims praise and compliment my hijab more than Muslims. Contrary to common Western belief, many Muslim women do not wear hijab nor do they want to wear it. (I’m the only hijabi in my immediate and extended family.) Actually, Muslims have often questioned and/or attacked my hijab, just like ignorant non-Muslims do. So why are we calling out prejudice from outside groups, and not from our own people? We need total tolerance from within the Muslim community if we are truly going to combat discrimination against hijabis.
On several occasions, I’ve been told by relatives to remove my hijab to find a husband.
On several occasions, I’ve been told by relatives to remove my hijab to find a husband. Similarly, a girl wanted to wear hijab after learning about it in college, but her mom stopped her. Another acquaintance avoided public family parties because her mom wouldn’t let her wear hijab. Yet another acquaintance was constantly bombarded in her room without hijab by male cousins because her family outright disliked hijab. (On a personal note, my parents suggested I take off my hijab for medical school interviews; I didn’t and got accepted anyway.) I’ve literally had three Pakistani people mock me for looking “Arab,” or question my non-Arab ethnicity while wearing hijab.
So to play shaytan’s advocate, can Muslims complain about racism when we practice it against one another? Muslims are not physically assaulting hijabis as a few Westerners have been recently, but are Muslims always welcoming hijabis with open arms? We cannot expect non-Muslims to respect hijab (and niqab) when our own community sometimes does not do so.
Moving forward, I think that World Hijab Day should include non-hijab wearing Muslim women in the conversation, and invite them to wear hijab that day as well. In that conversation, they can explore reasons they don’t wear hijab, which could include family pressure, political ideologies (i.e. hijab is for Arabs, not South Asians), or a lack of understanding and exposure. (Growing up, I did not know anyone who wore hijab, so I thought it was an archaic practice; in college I met many normal women who wore it, so I learned about it and started wearing it.) Even if the women choose not to wear hijab for World Hijab Day, it would be beneficial to have a conversation between hijabis and non-hijabis, to facilitate understanding and harmony between the groups, and lessen any discomfort or mistrust.
Because nudges and pulls from strangers may break my bones, but discriminating words from family will hurt me.
Recently, a video was released in which an Iranian woman was violently attacked by female officers for failing to fully cover her head. Known as the “morality police,” the officers were shown pushing the woman to the ground and beating her as screams pierced the air. […]