“As-salaamu alaikum,” may not be in the daily vocabulary of the average New Mexican, but for over 4,000 Muslims for whom New Mexico is home, the greeting is used frequently and faithfully. Unfortunately, the greeting “may the peace be upon you” is not always returned with “and upon you may the peace be.” At times, our neighbors are met instead with hostile words, threatening gestures and in extreme cases, violent acts, such as in 2014 when someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
Just this year, as a heated election cycle wound down, two disturbing instances here in Albuquerque made headlines. On Election Day, a man wearing a Trump t-shirt grabbed a young woman’s head and tried to pull off her hijab in the Zimmerman library at the University of New Mexico. Later in November, a female shopper at a local Smith’s grocery store in Albuquerque harassed a Muslim shopper wearing a hijab, calling her a terrorist.
There has been an alarming spike in disturbing acts like these across the country. In 2015, when Trump began his incendiary presidential campaign, taking aim at women, Mexicans, and Muslims alike, the FBI reported a 67 percent rise in hate crimes against Muslims. In the wake of the presidential election, dozens of violent attacks against Muslims were reported nation-wide. It remains unknown how many similar incidents went unreported.
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, along with his appointment of Islamaphobic staff to top White House positions, multiple attempts at creating a Muslim travel ban, and refusal to adequately address anti-Muslim hate crimes are just some of the reasons why the Brennan Center for Justice has labeled his administration “the most Islamaphobic” to date.
But many Americans have not taken these hateful actions or discriminatory policies lying down. In the wake of Trump’s January executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, thousands protested at airports across the nation to condemn the ban. Here in Albuquerque, a diverse group of people gathered at the International Sunport chanting, “no ban, no wall, Albuquerque is for all” and holding signs that read “Muslims are welcome here.”
We take heart in this outpouring of support and show of respect for our Muslim neighbors. We hope to grow this support with our new blog series offering “spotlights” on various Muslim New Mexicans in our communities. We’ll hear from a diverse group of people on what it means to be Muslim in America in this uncertain time and what they believe are the greatest misconceptions about their faith. We’ll get to know real people and hear their real stories.
Though we’re in a particularly frightening time, the attack on Muslims didn't start with and won’t end with Donald Trump. It ends with understanding, compassion, and a refusal to buy into the myth that we should fear and resent our neighbors and our friends. Instead of getting afraid, let’s all get familiar.