President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions on predominantly Muslim countries were a horrific policy when first instituted three years ago. The ban has targeted vulnerable communities, exacerbated hostilities towards Muslim Americans and continues to stand in direct contradiction to American values.
Now, the restrictions are about to be imposed on thousands of other people around the world. The president announced last week that he is expanding the xenophobic ban, which exploits the Immigration and Nationality Act, to include a total of 13 countries. Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania are among the countries that now must adhere to the discriminatory restrictions. Four of these countries are African, and all espouse large Muslim populations.
The Muslim ban is not only inhumane and absolutely unconstitutional, but illogical in the context of American history. Muslim Americans have existed in the United States since the inception of this nation through West African Muslim slaves. America’s own Founding Father, George Washington, owned at least two West African Muslim slaves.
Modern historians continue to uncover the outstanding contributions of West African Muslim slaves to this country, including the blues, which modern musicologists suggested has roots in the Islamic call to prayer. Any policy seeking to ban Muslims is nonsensical, given that since the beginning of American history, Muslim Americans have been an inherent and integral component of the history, politics and culture of the United States.
As we reflect on the unspeakable trauma that the Muslim ban has inflicted, and will continue to inflict upon countless individuals, families and communities, we recognize that we hold an obligation to rise up against divisive rhetoric and fight for what is right. This is the time for cross-community solidarity and coalition-building. Despite its existence for the past three years, as well as President Trump’s recent expansion of the ban, we reject the normalization of the Muslim ban.
We refuse to allow ourselves to become indifferent toward the systematic xenophobia that it represents. We will not be complacent in this administration’s abuse of power that aims to control which communities will be afforded entry, and which will be barred because of their faith. The fight must go on, regardless of this administration’s persistence in making this a staple in American foreign policy.
In the past three years, the resistance movement has been absolutely inexhaustible. Emgage, the organization for which I serve as a legislative director, strives to empower Muslim Americans through political engagement, and further, seeks to educate Americans generally on policy issues affecting Muslim American communities.
From the time that President Trump proposed the Muslim ban as a presidential candidate in 2015, Emgage has been in the forefront of the fight against the ban through engagement with policymakers and coalition-building with minority-majority communities across the United States. Our main efforts have been with a group of powerful advocates to support and push for the passage of legislation which will effectively repeal the ban, entitled the NO BAN Act.
As we near the 2020 presidential elections, Muslim communities are hyperaware of which candidates have made efforts to engage with us and speak directly to policy issues impacting our communities. To political leaders, I want to make myself clear: Do not underestimate the incredible weight of the Muslim American vote.
Many Muslim American groups gave Sen. Bernie Sanders and Secretary Julián Castro a nod of approval for speaking at the Islamic Society of North America convention, one of the largest national gatherings in our community. We need political leaders to accept invitations to our spaces, dialog with us about key policy issues impacting our community and listen to our visions for a president that represents all Americans, not just their primary base.
In selecting the future leader of this nation, the implications of the Muslim ban must be imbued within the consciousness of every American citizen. We must never forget the unspeakable damage and trauma that this horrific policy has caused to countless individuals, families and communities.
This damage includes separating families, denying refuge to individuals fleeing from unimaginable persecution and institutionalizing Islamophobia. We cannot be complacent in any more family separations, whether abroad or at our own borders. We must continue the fight for justice and refuge for all.
No human being is unwelcome, illegitimate or bannable.
Iman Awad is the legislative director at Emgage, an organization that strives to build the political awareness and capacity of Muslim Americans. This piece was written for The Baltimore Sun.