Too distressed to focus in class Wednesday, Asaad Traina, a 25-year-old public health student at Harvard University, joined his friend Mahmoud Elrifai for lunch at the cafe in Boston’s largest mosque.
“He’s not racist in coded language, like we’re used to,” Traina said, referring to Donald J. Trump, the president-elect. “He’s overtly super-racist and sexist and anti-Muslim. The scary thing is, all the people who share his views now legitimately feel like they can be open about that.”
Elrifai, also 25 and a research assistant at Harvard Medical School, tried to be optimistic. Yes, Trump has proposed conducting surveillance of mosques, creating a national registry of Muslims, and banning new Muslim immigrants. But, Elrifai reasoned, the Constitution hasn’t gone anywhere, and Trump would have plenty to worry about besides trying to enact new rules governing Muslims.
“I hope it won’t go that far,” Elrifai said. “But I can’t say for sure.”
On the morning after Election Day, Muslims in Boston struggled to imagine living under a president who has cast them as security threats, and as foreigners in their own country. Amid the grief and fear, the frustration and the uncertainty, community leaders in Boston resolved to work harder for justice and to strengthen community ties, and religious leaders tried to offer spiritual reassurance.
“More than anything, we want to be really aware of what the role and responsibility of a Muslim should be as a citizen to really see the betterment of our country collectively,” said Shaykh Yasir Fahmy, spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury. It is a time for national introspection, he said, and for seeking comfort in faith: “We believe ‘In God We Trust.’ ’’
For Fahmy, and for others, Trump’s election did not provoke worry only, or even primarily, for Muslims.
“I’ll be honest, my biggest concern last night were Mexican immigrants, not the Muslim community,” Fahmy said. “All the rhetoric has been centered on them.”
Wednesday had its bright spots at the mosque. Early in the morning, e-mails began trickling in from interfaith leaders and from a few Bostonians who wanted to offer support, said Yusufi Vali, the mosque’s executive director.
“Your presence enriches us all and I’m proud to be your fellow American,” one woman wrote in an e-mail. “Take heart, and know that so many of us of all faiths and races see a slight on you as a slight on us all. . . . You are welcome here always.”
Still, some worried about their safety. Hate crimes against Muslims increased sharply in 2015, to their highest level since 2001, according to a study of 20 states released in September by researchers at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. In recent months, a steady stream of hate crimes against Muslims has filled the headlines: a mosque arson in Florida, a murder in Oklahoma City, a mosque in Arkansas covered with profanity.
“A lot of women are afraid right now,” said Malika MacDonald-Rushdan, the Massachusetts field office director of the Islamic Circle of North America Relief. “I’m trying to counsel them to put their trust in God, to be strong. There are still good people in America, and we cannot cave to this hatred and bigotry.”
Zachary Khan, 23, of Middleton, said he remembered how difficult it was to be the Muslim kid at school after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He said many of his younger friends had been posting on social media since Tuesday night.
“They’re worried, they think they’re doomed,” he said. Khan said he has tried to reassure them that the president “doesn’t have power over everything.”
Not everyone was feeling concerned. Mahmoud A. Yusuf, who stopped at the mosque to pray at midday Wednesday, said with a laugh that Trump’s proposals change all the time, so why worry?
“What kind of danger do we have to be afraid of? There’s nothing,” he said. “Whatever comes, it’s God who will decide.”
And Nema Habib, 55, a chef in the mosque’s cafe, was already turning her attention to the Trump administration, which she hopes might address the high cost of college. “The families can’t afford” it, she said.
Samer Naseredden, the youth programming director at the mosque, has urged young Muslims he interacts with on social media to view Trump’s victory not so much as a national endorsement of bigotry, but as an expression of voters’ frustrations with the economy and with Washington’s political culture.
“We can’t let this set us into a state of self-victimization, where we droop our heads and lose all hope,” he said. “As a nation we have to go back and evaluate — what is it that got us here?”
Vali said he had begun thinking about what he can do personally to help bridge the gap.
“I wish I had more Trump people in my social circle, to understand more about where they’re coming from,” he said.
It’s time for all Americans, he said, “to reflect on what has happened here, and why.”
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.