This morning, the call to prayer, the Adhan, woke me just after 4 am as it came from the three crackly loudspeakers at the mosques that surround my house.
I have been on an extended stay on the African and 99% Muslim island of Zanzibar for the past couple of months, working with the Zanzibar International Film Festival while witnessing from a considerable, safe distance the sickening succession of police shootings of Black people in my home. Let’s say I have twangs of survivor’s guilt, just not enough to return—yet. I am settling in on this magical isle and have managed to sleep through that very early wake-up call-to-prayer. I have also grown used to my day being punctuated by these five melodic chants that signal a turn to God for the Muslims in the country, and a moment of reflection for those not observing but getting in sync with the planet’s rhythms as the sun rises, sets, and sits highest in the sky. My daughters aged five and three also look forward to the Adhan and try to emulate it, their version sung to the tune of Simba’s Lion King call.
As an African-American Muslim woman, the closest I came to this public performance of the faith in the US was living in Harlem near Masjid Malcolm Shabazz on 116th Street (the mosque where Malcolm X lectured and where my parents met), when during Ramadan I set my alarm to rise for prayer while the rest of the city slept and I could hear the Adhan being called from not so far away. Or perhaps it was when I was eight-years-old in the 1980s, when Muslims from all cultural backgrounds came together to proclaim their faith and celebrate at a public prayer service in New York’s Central Park at the end of the month of Ramadan. So when I was older, it was no wonder I gravitated to rappers like Brand Nubian, Guru and A Tribe Called Quest who sprinkled their rhymes with Arabic and proclamations of the faith.
But Muslims in America have, for the most part, lived in the shadows of a mass Christmas celebrating, pepperoni pizza-eating, Easter egg-hunting, bikini-rocking United States. It has never been easy living outside the Judeo-Christian mainstream in the US, but America’s promise to the parents of my immigrant friends from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa—as well as to me and my ex-Nation of Islam, African-American Muslim convert mother and father—was that we could observe our faith without fear of persecution in the pursuit of happiness in a pluralistic society.
We know that these rights and the American dream are not doled out evenly and are in constant negotiation (#BlackLivesMatter). But the Republican nominee for president has painted all Muslims and those coming from Muslim countries as a threat and potential terrorists, effectively painting a bullseye on the backs of my Muslim brothers and sisters. It is reprehensible. Even in progressive New York City, this anti-Islam fervor has grown to a fever pitch given the platform of Donald Trump, and women have been attacked on the street for wearing hijab. And so, it is also criminal.
I would call endangering the lives of Muslims by enflaming Islamophobia (I’m so glad spellcheck does not recognize this as a word yet—let’s hope it is a blip on our rhetorical timeline) across the country another form of terrorism, yet it is what Trump does many times when he is in front of an audience and a microphone. Just last week, at the second Presidential debate, he insinuated that Muslim Americans did not report, and therefore enabled, terrorist activity. It was a slap in the face to Muslims that fight for this country on the front lines of the armed services, as well as to those who grieve with the rest of the country for each and every attack on its citizens. Moreover, it is an attack against our faith, which strictly forbids such acts. It is dangerous—and crazy talk.
So when my five-year-old asked me what I was writing, and I told her it was about “a horrible man who wants to be president and wants to stop Muslims from coming to the United States,” she immediately ran to me with tears in her eyes and hugged me, saying, “But I want to go back to the United States one day!”
I explained that she and I were born there (I did not remind her that my husband, her Muslim father, was not). I told her that Trump wants to prevent foreign-born Muslims from entering, but that I would write-on and fight so that he would not become president, for if he does the United States of her homecoming dreams may become a place of her worst fears.