President Donald Trump, who as a candidate threatened to ban Muslims from the U.S., followed through as president with a travel order that kept residents of several Muslim-majority countries out of the United States. He’s aligned with notorious Islamophobes and has attacked the first two Muslim women in Congress.
Some Muslims are voting for his reelection anyway.
Although Muslims are the least likely faith group in the U.S. to support Trump in the 2020 election, the number of Muslim Americans who support him is rising, according to a report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding released in October. Support for Trump among Muslim Americans climbed from 4% in 2016 to 14% this year, the survey found.
HuffPost spoke to 10 American Muslims across the country about why they back Trump. Several said they liked his stance on foreign policy. Some said they support Trump’s stances on abortion and health care. A few others credited Trump for improving the job market. While several said they didn’t like it when the president has indulged in xenophobia, they are willing to overlook it because of his other positive attributes.
“Some [Muslims] will say, ‘You’ve betrayed Islam’ and ‘You’ve betrayed the entire community,’” Yahay Obeid, a 37-year-old in New York, told HuffPost. “‘You voted for Trump.’ How’s that fair? How is that a correct statement? Are we not in a democracy? Can you not vote for whoever you want?”
Obeid, who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in 2018, said he was put off by Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims and refugees during the first campaign, and even some of his actions as president, such as suspending the entry of refugees from Yemen, where Obeid and his family are from, and other countries. Obeid said he was willing to overlook them.
“If you look at the overall picture, right, I like 75% of what Trump does and I hate 25% of what he does,” Obeid told HuffPost. “I like to see things in moderation. Everything in moderation. And if voting for AOC and Trump, we’re going to find the middle ground there, then, let it be,” he said.
‘He’s Actually Delivered’
Tamer Elmenayer, a 43-year-old technology manager in Texas, said he didn’t vote in 2016, predominately because he felt that “neither party represented my ideals or needs as a Muslim American,” he said.
During the 2020 Democratic primary, he was captivated by then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He particularly liked Sanders’ ”Medicare for All” health care plan and that the Vermont senator called out economic inequality. Elmenayer even donated to Sanders’ campaign.
But after Sanders lost the nomination, Elmenayer was unconvinced by former Vice President Joe Biden and particularly frustrated by how the other Democrats treated Sanders. So he began to look across party lines. And he wound up impressed by Trump, including the fact that he left the coronavirus pandemic response largely to the states rather than using it to expand his presidential powers through nationwide mandates.
“I try not to look at things on a partisan line, I try to look at things issue by issue,” said Elmenayer. “Trump was a different voice. He actually had his own voice. He appeared to be independent of the political machine and I felt that he was actually taking steps for America.”
Najib Abdul-Haqq, 58, a two-time Trump voter and a two-time President Barack Obama voter, said Obama and the Democratic party failed him as a Black American Muslim. When Trump asked Black voters what they had to lose by supporting him in 2016, Abdul-Haqq found himself unable to provide an answer. Today, Abdul-Haqq said he’s more content with Trump than he was with Obama.
“He’s actually delivered in terms of his presidency,” Abdul-Haqq said. “Prison reform, his funding of the historically Black colleges and universities, and deregulation on taxes. I was with him on strong border regulations because Black labor is the first to get hurt by illegal immigration into this country.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed to be better for Black Americans than past presidents. Earlier this year, he claimed he “saved” historically Black colleges and universities, although funding passed under Obama as well. Research has found that the idea that undocumented workers are taking away jobs from people of color is based on half-truths and fails to mention the overall net wealth brought in by immigration.
Although experts have found that many of Trump’s policies and rhetoric have actively harmed Black Americans, Abdul-Haqq said he doesn’t find Trump “to be any more racist than any other president that has preceded to include President Obama.” As for 2020, Abdul-Haqq said he might have voted for Biden if he were running against any other Republican who wasn’t Trump.
Ahmed Elzaree, a 51-year-old imam based in Maryland, said too often Democrats pander to Muslims for their vote but take no meaningful action to support their communities.
I believe that all American presidents play with the emotions of Muslims, and none of them at all care for Muslims. Ahmed Elzaree, Maryland voter
Elzaree is a longtime Republican and has voted for Donald Trump twice. Elzaree said Trump had “his shortcomings like any other human being” but, overall, he couldn’t be happier with the country under the president.
“I believe that all American presidents play with the emotions of Muslims, and none of them at all care for Muslims,” Elzaree said. “I don’t think Joe Biden cares for Muslims more than Trump. Biden is trying to manipulate the Muslims by just saying things in Arabic or quoting the religion or something like that, but he is not better than Trump. And the same thing goes for Obama and Clinton and George Bush.”
Aligning With Republican Values
Some Muslim Trump voters said they back the president because they are more aligned with Republicans on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
A registered Democrat until 2011, 35-year-old Saba Ahmed said she began to feel that her religious values, including her opposition to abortion, began to conflict with the party’s platform. She was hesitant about affiliating with the GOP because the party often propagates disinformation about American Muslims, but she felt like it was the right thing to do. In 2016, she founded the Republican Muslim Coalition in Texas.
“As hard as it was becoming Republican and kind of trying to make a place in the Republican party as a Muslim American, I still felt that at least I didn’t have to have a conflict with my faith, so that really drove me to it,” Ahmed said.
Farhana Shifa, a 45-year-old naturalized citizen from Bangladesh, said her personal and religious values align best with the GOP. She has been involved in GOP politics since 2013. She ran for Arizona state office in 2018 and is an advisory board member on the Asian Pacific Americans for Trump Nationwide Coalition. In March 2020, she became the co-chair of Muslim Voices For Trump to build “a bridge between President Trump and the Muslim community and to promote a greater understanding.”
Shifa said the president’s support for religious freedoms speaks to his desire to cater to all Abrahamic faiths, including the Muslim community.
“I believe in God, I believe in family values, and most importantly, I believe in a smaller government, and I’m a pro-life person. That’s why I became a Republican,” she said.
Ali Hamideh is a 32-year-old car mechanic in upstate New York who has been outspoken in his opposition to local vaccine requirements. He and his wife blame his son’s rare seizure disorder on his vaccinations, and he is voting for Trump in protest against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Democrats generally. (Multiple scientific studies have determined vaccines are safe. Seizures can be a rare side effect, but there is no evidence that immunizations cause long-term conditions.)
“I do feel safe under Trump’s policies as opposed to the Democrats,” he said.
He said that Democrats “don’t want to give you safety, they don’t want to give you freedom. They want to make you live in fear, that’s what I see.”
‘The Lesser Of Two Evils’
Many of the Muslim Trump supporters who spoke to HuffPost particularly like Trump’s foreign policy, noting that previous administrations engaged in military interventions in Muslim-majority countries, and appreciate that Trump has not followed suit.
While Trump claimed he was ending “an era of endless wars,” experts have noted that he has brought the country to the brink of new ones with North Korea or Iran. In 2019, the U.S. dropped more bombs in Afghanistan more than in any other year.
As for the Muslim travel ban, Elmenayer said it could be worse.
“Would you rather have a temporary travel ban from those countries? Or would you rather have him go into those countries with troops and bomb indiscriminately killing many civilians? Because that’s what previous presidents have done,” Elmenayer said.
“So I would take a temporary travel ban than having us go to war with another nation, killing our brothers and sisters overseas. I think it’s the lesser of two evils,” he said.
Tom, a 27-year-old software developer in New Jersey, acknowledged that the president has made unsavory comments about Muslims and other marginalized groups, but he said people needed to “take it with a grain of salt.”
Tom, who is going by his first name only because of concerns that he might be doxed, is white and converted to Islam in 2015. He said he supports Trump based on his traditional family values and economic issues, including taxes and trade. Tom said, “the media overplays negative policies” such as the travel ban, which Tom said he doesn’t believe is a Muslim ban, and not other fiscal policies, such as tax cuts.
“I just don’t look at him through racial terms,” he said. “This president has delivered economically and foreign policy- and social policy-wise in ways that align with my view as a Muslim and as an American, and I support him purely based on that.”
Akrem, a 23-year-old from Minnesota who wished to be identified only by his first name, said he supports Trump because he’s “the antidote to everything that is wrong with America today.” But he also conceded that Republicans have shown some hostility toward Muslims.
Akrem said that while Trump is likely “pro-Christian” and “pro-white,” he thinks the president “probably doesn’t hate Muslims” and that Trump is just “saying what his supporters want to hear.”
“It doesn’t concern me that Trump is appealing to that,” Akrem said. “It’s just the reality of the country. It’s not something that Trump is responsible for, or he caused. The country has already been divided.”