As a Muslim, she was concerned about the newly minted president-elect and his campaign promises that targeted Muslims, immigrants and women. But it wasn’t until an older white couple began yelling at her, 10 minutes into her weekly commute to her internship, that the reality of Trump’s America set in.
“Most of what they were saying was telling me I can’t wear it [the hijab] anymore and telling me to take it off,” Nizam, a Bengali American, said.
The 19-year-old student had heard some Islamophobic comments before, but hadn’t experienced such aggressive harassment in New York City, where she, like Trump, was born and raised. But the stream of verbal abuse forced her to confront a reality she had been trying to avoid – that Trump had actually won.
“I didn’t believe it until the moment this incident occurred,” she said of Trump’s victory. “I don’t think I absorbed it and felt the reality of it, I didn’t. I kept myself distracted all of Wednesday and then Thursday happened and then it hits me, this is actually what’s going on and it was not OK.”
They were telling me I can’t wear [the hijab] anymore
Fariha Nizam on her harassers
Nizam is one of several Muslims around the country who have spoken to the Guardian about life since Trump’s victory. Trump won the keys to the White House following an incendiary campaign where he proposed a ban on Muslims, said Muslims “hate” Americans and promised a Muslim registry. Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, reportedly a key member of Trump’s transition team, said on Tuesday that the president-elect’s advisers are already considering the Muslim registry.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the amount of hate crimes reported since election night has been unusually high – as of Tuesday, the civil rights organization had tallied 437 incidents nationwide.
This is the case even in seemingly Muslim-friendly places like New York City, and in Michigan, which has one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the US. Civil rights groups there have reported an uptick in harassment – with one calling for a hate crime investigation after a Muslim woman in Ann Arbor was allegedly forced to remove her hijab by an unknown white man who, according to police, threatened to set her on fire with a lighter.
In another reported incident, two men shoved an 18-year-old woman wearing a hooded sweatshirt, commented on religion and asked her: “Do you know you’re in America?”
In the traditionally liberal city of Ann Arbor, two alleged incidents of ethnic intimidation and religious bias in a week is unusual, said Detective Lt Matthew Lige of the Ann Arbor police department.
“Certainly Ann Arbor, as a community that prides itself on its diversity, in race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, all those type of things,” he said. “So, for us to have two incidents that fit in this category is unusual and certainly [with] the political climate that we’re in right now, it’s concerning.”
Michigan and New York are home to some of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the US. But it is impossible to say with certainty how many Muslims there are in the country as the Census Bureau does not ask questions about faith. Estimates vary from as few as 3 million to as many as 8 million. Within that overall demographic, there is huge diversity in terms of geography, religious identity and race-cum-ethnicity, which renders any generalizations about the “Muslim community” in America perilous.