Reflections on Moving Forward in the Era of President Trump

Here’s a glimpse into how my Tuesday evening went.

We sat down to eat, with my kids asking if it was true we’d have to pack our bags and leave the country depending on the election outcome. After assuring them that we would not, I took a break to record a YouTube video for my new channel. One of the points I made in that video was that adversity happens to everyone, and we choose how to view it and the action we take in response to it. It didn’t dawn on me that I would have to find a way to apply that lesson the morning after the election.

After recording, I headed over to attend Sh. AbdulNasir’s seerah class. I thought it would be a much needed break from the election coverage. Except when I tried to listen, I couldn’t help but check Twitter. I sat there, watching in real time as class went on the chances of Trump winning go up to over 57%.

Fast forward, and I’m watching Trump deliver his acceptance speech. He looked like the only person who might have been more shocked than the rest of the country. It seemed like the first time he was giving a rehearsed speech someone else wrote, and with the face of someone who clearly would rather go back to running his businesses than taking on the task of governing.

So what now?

I don’t have the answers, but I did want to share some reflections I’ve had in trying to move forward.

Get Busy Planting Seeds

This hadith is the first one that came to mind after it became apparent Trump was going to win.

We can’t change the fact that Trump won. We can choose how we respond to it.

If we want to know why we didn’t have a viable 3rd party option, it’s because we never planted the seeds 4, 8, 12, or 16 years ago. Trees don’t sprout overnight. They take time to grow, and we are going to have to plant seeds that may not bear fruit until after our lifetimes.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to force us into action. This is the time to start voting and being active in our local city/county elections, and finding ways to help third-party candidates gain traction.

The hadith above isn’t just about action, it’s also about hope. No matter what the situation is, we have to do our part with optimism and compassion. That doesn’t mean that things won’t be difficult, or that we might not see an increase in Islamophobia. What it does mean, now more than ever, is we have to make a conscious choice to plant the seeds of generosity and kindness in society.

Rethinking Our Activism Approach

The 8 years of the Obama administration has been an interesting time for Muslim activism (see: Obama is Muslim, White House Iftar, MLI, and others). The crux of a lot of the Muslim community’s focus over the past 8 years, in my perception, boils down to 2 agenda items:

  1. Having a seat at the table
  2. Normalizing/humanizing Muslims

The microcosm of having a seat at the table was the many images of Muslim leaders smiling for photos with Obama as he waged drone attacks on innocent Muslim people. What this really highlighted was both a lack of principle, and a lack of guidance. Our community is simply not united in what our strategic vision should be going forward. White House Iftar 2017 is going to be an interesting one 😔.

Scholars, activists, media members, academics, and community members are all in need of each other. Problems arise when one operates in a vacuum separated from the others. To understand why this is problematic, Evangelicals voting for Trump is exactly what happens when theology and activism become divorced. People take a single issue (such as abortion), and because of wanting to be on what they consider to be right side of that debate, they overlook other moral issues (such as empowering sexual predators and further subjugating their victims into silence).

As for normalizing and humanizing, this to me is a larger issue. We have seen first-hand the effects of the dehumanizing of Muslims, as Suzanne Barakat explains in her heart-breaking TED Talk:

While humanizing is necessary, we need a new strategy beyond trying to show we are cool just like everyone else. We need to change our narrative (as Sana Saeed outlines in this talk on Social Media Activism).

Changing the narrative may seem overwhelming, but it starts at a micro-level. Make sure your co-workers, colleagues, and neighbors get to know you at a human level. We find this example from the life of the Prophet (s). After the boycott when the Muslims were exiled to the outskirts of Makkah for 2 years, they started to re-integrate into a hostile environment. It was at this tense time that the Prophet (s) still took out time to do things like joking and wrestling with the most famous wrestler of their time as Sh. AbdulNasir explains in this video:

The challenge now is seeing how much we are willing to work over the next 4 years to create change. In other words, how many seeds can we plant?

Race & Economics

There’s a debate happening online as to whether Trump voters were motivated by race or economics. I think it’s both, but also a little more than that.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast episode titled, “‘Secular Rapture’: Trump and the American Dispossessed,” which focuses on an author attempting to construct ‘deep stories’ of families voting for Trump. They talked about how race and economics are easy outs. Beyond this, there is an overriding constellation of fears that are driving this mindset. They are people who are facing tough times (such as economic loss), and they feel everyone else is getting a break (e.g. minorities, welfare, affirmative action). In their eyes, Trump is the only one who is acknowledging them and fighting for them. The other candidates are insiders, elites who make fun of them, call them rednecks, and leave them out in the cold.

Trump found a way to validate them and go to bat for their problems – albeit using a platform of fear, paranoia, and racism. The real question becomes, how do we advocate for policies and candidates that lift people out of economic depression and also bridge the racial divide? It seems Bernie may have been that candidate, but sadly, we won’t know.

People Who Aren’t on Social Media Swung The Election

If you only follow the news and social media, what happened was shocking. Just like Brexit. I wrote about this in detail earlier this year – How Invisible Filter Bubbles Shape Your Social, Political, and Religious Views.

This election was decided by rural voters and the silent majority – groups who you do not hear from on social media.

[P]undits are disconnected from a vast majority of voters in middle America. When you live in New York City or Washington, D.C. – as many pundits do – you can become blind to seeing middle America, the south and vast swaths of the country. You must accept that your vision of America, might not match the vision of the rest of America. ….

We focused in the media on the loudest, most vocal and often the most-shocking Trump supporters. We tracked the base for Trump and base for Clinton. We said the base was incredibly stable and unchanging, leading to the prediction that Clinton would be President. While we were focused on the base – a new wave of voters were emerging. The silent voters slipped by, unnoticed until election day. … America, the silent majority is asking “Can you hear me now?” (Marie Whitaker, NBC)

One of the foundations of social media is that it portrays a false sense of reality. The news industry tacked on top of it caters to the bottom-line of what makes money. I’ve highlighted some of its effects previously in this article.

Glenn Greenwald tweeted this, and I thought it made an excellent point:

Part of changing our narrative is going to be in helping to support other media outlets that are working to put out good journalistic content (such as AJ+).

Crisis of Leadership

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It’s so painful when bad leaders rise to the top.

Leadership is influence, and in an election where one side nominated an egotistical narcissist, the other side nominated … the status quo.

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There is undoubtedly a void in this country now, and people will be looking for a voice of reason and hope. Leadership is also about creating a vision. If we succumb to the negativity and fear, we can never help uplift people out of the despair they feel.

It is painful when bad leaders rise tot he top, but not surprising. We are the generation that made the Kardashians famous. We are a society that rewards shameless behavior. This is a time, more than ever, that we need morality and ethics in society.

Leadership from the Muslim community should seem like a natural fit on these topics, but we have to be consistent with our values. If race and economics played a role in this election, then we need to take a long hard look at our own communities. How much racism is there in our own households? How much of our donation money is truly going to social justice and helping to lift people out of poverty? What about the economic and racial disparities, and the lack of togetherness, between inner-city and suburban masjids?

These are tough questions we have to tackle, and hopefully this election result becomes an excuse to do so. This kind of leadership takes courage – the same kind of courage that Apple needed to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

Prophetic Method

The Prophet (s) while giving advice to a child, Ibn Abbas (r), said: “Know that if all the people get together in order to benefit you with something, they will not be able to benefit you in anything except what Allah has decreed for you. And if they all get together in order to harm you with something, they will not be able to harm you in anything except what Allah has decreed for you. The pens have stopped writings [Divine Preordainment]. And (the ink over) the papers (Book of Decrees) has dried.” (Sahih Bukhari)

One advice that’s always stuck out to me has been the concept of tie your camel, and have tawakkul. My hope is that the above reflection points help move us in the direction of tying that camel and working strategically to affect positive change in our communities. The rest, we leave to Allah (swt).

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