I held my golden-cased phone in my hand as I was about to play a video, wanting to know if the rumors I heard were true. I was nervous, and I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I had to hear it for myself. I pressed play, only to hear a rough voice saying: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our country’s representatives figure out what the hell is going on!”
My eyes widened with disbelief as I watched Donald Trump building his election campaign by making that statement of pure hatred and Islamophobia, while he stood in front of the blue wall that had “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” on it and behind the podium that had “TRUMP” written in a large, white font. What shocked me even more was when I listened to the crowd cheering as their beloved candidate was verifying their hate.
* * *
Here I was, a year later at Stockton University on a Saturday afternoon, for a club officer training program as one of the representative E-board members for the Muslim Student Association (MSA). I was in the Campus Center Coffee House, sitting on a circular ottoman with plus-shaped polka dots of different colors, right next to a black fireplace. I opened Instagram to search for the MSA’s Instagram name. However, I forgot what I wanted to do and started looking through my feed, only to find a picture posted by Muslim Girl, an online magazine, that had: “ADVISORY ALERT” written in a large pink font in the top center and “MUSLIM BAN GUIDEBOOK” written in a much smaller white font with a pink trapezoid around it at the top left corner. I didn’t hesitate to read what else was written in that picture and decided to scroll down to read the caption that said: “It’s already begun. We’ve been receiving reports all night of travelers being detained and sent back from airports and families being ripped apart. For now, stay put. Please spread the word and stay safe. More resources available @ link in bio.”
I closed Instagram right after reading this. As shocked as I was, I didn’t want to believe any of this. I knew that Donald Trump, who had been inaugurated as the US president a week before, had signed an executive order to ban immigration from seven Muslim countries on Friday, but I never imagined it would actually happen. I quickly pushed out the thought and convinced myself that this was probably a hoax. I decided to wait for more validation of this news, but until then, I tried doing everything I could to believe that this wasn’t happening.
A few hours later, I went into my bedroom and closed the door after coming home from what should have been a fun family dinner at Crab Trap, but I wasn’t able to stop thinking about the Muslim ban the whole time. I went to sit on the beige carpet by my bed and looked through my newsfeed on Facebook. All the posts I saw were about the Muslim ban and news about immigrants being detained at airports. What I wanted to believe to be a hoax earlier that day turned out to be a gut-wrenching reality. When I realized I couldn’t contain my feelings anymore, I got up, locked the bedroom door, and sat back down, only to have my forehead resting on my bed as I continued reading through my newsfeed. Suddenly, tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks as I felt nothing but hopelessness, despite seeing several posts about opposition to the ban and the anti-ban protests around the country. I started beating my fist on the ground as agony filled up inside of me like air filled up a closed container. I was wondering what would happen if this ban was going to extend to other countries. What if Egypt was going was going to be added to the list? My mom’s a green card holder, so she would be affected by this! What if this goes beyond a ban?
As I continued looking through my Facebook newsfeed, I found a picture of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, smiling at a young refugee girl and welcoming her to Canada. When I saw this, I felt so much shame and rejection that I even started wondering what my life might have been like if my parents emigrated from Egypt to Canada instead of the United States. Would my life have been better? Would I have felt more welcomed than I did now in my own home country? Later on, I saw a post about a Mosque shooting that happened in Quebec in which six people were murdered. In that moment, I realized that hate was everywhere.
* * *
Two days later, I was driving my Chevy Cruze, the inside of which was completely black and dusty, with papers on the floor. I was on my way to Stockton on a Monday morning on a road mostly surrounded by trees covered in light snow. The chunk of keys and keychains attached to the car keys kept clicking as I drove. The heater filled the car with good warmth from the cold that was outside. My best friend Rawan, a bilingual Arabic-English speaker just like me whom I’ve known since we were literally in diapers, was sitting next to me. Without Rawan, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my shattered heart together.
I was a bundle of nerves while I thought about the tons of assignments that I should have started in the weekend, but I wasn’t able to as I had lost my ability to function after accepting the reality of the Muslim Ban. The pain was unbearable. I had a fifty-two page reading and questions due at 2:10 pm, and I barely finished half of it. It was a reading about the euthanasia program in Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany. Out of all the historical topics that could have been discussed, it had to be Nazi Germany? I had a full-length lab report and a dialogue writing exercise due Thursday, and I had no idea what to do for either one of them.
“Trump maba’aloosh esboo’in, wi, wi… wi mebahdel eldenya kolaha (Trump hasn’t been president for two weeks, and, and… and he’s ruined everything). Me and my dad were just talking about it,” Rawan started.
“Hmm?” I asked, as I was focused on the road.
“Me and my dad were just talking about, like, the people that were detained,”
Rawan and I were both equally frustrated about the Muslim ban. As we spoke, I realized that I wasn’t alone in dealing with the aftermath of all of this political chaos. But for Rawan, it wasn’t just the Muslim ban, it was also dealing with all the backlash of going to the Women’s March, a choice she was very passionate about.
“I, first of all, the reason why… I… got out of social media, like I deleted my… my Facebook, Twitter, everything.”
“I did go on Facebook wi keda (and like that) to see what other people were thinking,” I said.
“I deleted everything because I… after the… the Women’s March thing.”
“I’ve been getting a lot of hate, on Instagram and on… on Twitter and on Facebook. Ya’ni nas men Masr beyitisilo beya wi ye’ololy: ‘enty ezay terohy haga zay di?’ ‘Wenty Fakra nafsek bete’mely eh?’ (I mean people from Egypt were calling me and telling me: ‘How could you go to something like this?’ ‘And what do you think you’re doing?’)”
I had mixed views about not going to the Women’s March. I felt some regret as I felt like I should have been there to make my voice heard. But I also felt like it was partially a blessing because I could have gotten the same amount of hate as Rawan did; thus, it would have added more to my current pain.
“I got so much hate,” Rawan continued, “and then I kept seeing… like all I would see in my newsfeed is just like: Trump did this, Trump did that, Trump did this. The mosque that got burnt in umm… in…”
“Uhh, Texas,” I finished.
“In Texas,” she repeated.
“Wana Moshkelty en ana (And my problem is that I) I didn’t want…”
“You know what? I just wanna shut down! I don’t wanna see this. I don’t wanna… like I tried to isolate myself!”
I was able to hear the frustration clearly in Rawan’s voice. I did what I could do to help her through what she had been going through. I wasn’t even sure if I could help myself.
A few minutes later as I made a left turn onto Vera King Farris Drive, the road that leads to Stockton, I realized that I barely noticed the trees along the road, unlike previous days. After a long period of silence, besides the clicking of the key chains and the sound of the engine, I sighed.
“I was even barely focused, like ‘arfa elli howa eh (you know, that is,) I’m focusing on driving, and I did see the lights and everything, but I’m not like really focused on the road or what the surrounding looks like. ‘Arfa elli howa… (you know, that is…),” I spoke as if I were lifting weights.
“You’re hazy,” Rawan told me.
“Yeah, I’m not feeling it.”
I tried to enjoy driving in the middle of the woods surrounded by trees of different kinds before I had to force myself to sit in class as if it were a day like any other. I knew I had to contain my pain and constantly push away my thoughts and feelings of rejection just to focus on the lecture. Was it really going to be that easy? Was I going to be able to make it through not only a day, but an entire week filled with classes, assignments, and studying, and at the same time, deal with the reality of the Muslim ban and the heightened Islamophobia without shutting down?
* * *
Three Fridays after the Muslim ban executive order was signed, I was sitting in my chemistry professor’s office, building up the courage to explain to her how rough my past few weeks had been and how it negatively affected me both psychologically and academically. After I told her what I wanted to talk about, she got up and closed the door so I could speak comfortably. As I told her my situation, she was nodding sympathetically. I remember her asking about my family and if the order affected them. I also remember her reassuring me and telling me, “You are a fine student,” and that I shouldn’t let any of this demoralize me and that this was my opportunity to prove myself. I got up from my chair as I was about to leave the office.
“Thank you,” I told her as she smiled.
As I walked back to my car in the bright sunlight that afternoon, I felt so much relief as I took a burden of too much weight off of my shoulders. This conversation with my professor in which I was able to express my struggles and how I felt was what I needed all along, instead of bottling my feelings and thoughts up. I pressed the unlock button on my car keys and went into my car. When I turned on the engine and put my hands on the steering wheel, I came to an important realization. This was a reality that no one, not even Donald Trump or the Muslim ban, could change. As rejected as I may have felt, America was and will always be my home.
The executive order signed by Donald Trump to ban immigration from seven Muslims was one of the most grief-stricken experiences of my life, despite my family not being from any of the seven countries on the list. It left me emotionally traumatized for weeks as I felt excluded and rejected from my own home country because of my identity, and it was very hard to move on from it. Writing this essay was a very good way to help me cope with what I had to go through and it also helped me see how much I have moved forward past my grief. I also thought that it was extremely important to bring awareness to how Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination can be both physically and mentally detrimental to the minority groups that are targeted by them. Now it might be the Muslims that are detained in airports, but later on, it could be anyone. It is important for everyone, regardless of race, religion, political views, and other differences, to stand up together against all injustices, including the Muslim ban.