One month before the November 2016 election, I boarded a plane from LAX to JFK. I cautiously squeezed past a middle-aged married couple to my widow seat while feeling a little paranoid. The anti-Muslim rhetoric during the campaign season, full of vows to register, deport or ban Muslims, made me feel extremely uncomfortable every time I stepped into an airport. Every week I read articles about #FlyingWhileMuslim; Muslims were being refused entry onto planes and escorted off their flights for speaking in a foreign language. I knew it could happen to me.
As I sat down, I feigned cool but felt a gnawing pressure to make sure everyone on the plane knew I was not an enemy. Glad to be hidden in a corner seat, I glanced to my right as the couple next to me began taking out several religious texts before takeoff. The woman beside me noticed my curiosity and we began talking. Rachel Hannah sat with her husband and several Hebrew texts while reciting traveler’s prayers openly on the plane. Suddenly, a knot in my stomach came undone and I felt relieved for the first time since I stepped into the airport. Rachel Hannah prayed, her husband prayed, and eventually we all sat there and prayed our similar but different Islamic and Jewish traveler’s prayers for everyone’s safe passage as we began taking off.
Yesterday, thousands of protesters demonstrated at airports across the country as refugees and immigrants entering the U.S. were detained. Although an emergency stay was granted against the executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, and hundreds of lawyers volunteered hours late into the night to defend people, I cannot imagine how the detainees felt. I only experienced a microcosm of the fear, heartache and gnawing pressure they must have felt to assure everyone that they are not an enemy. The day I sat next to Rachel Hannah, I spoke to her about why she was choosing to vote in a way I would never consider. For her, it was a matter of one political position, and after hours of conversation, I cannot fathom her approving of what is happening today. I could not imagine we would be here today with a call-it-by-any-other-name Muslim Ban, but now that we are, please take a moment to consider the fear and anxiety Muslim, refugee, immigrant and undocumented communities are facing today.
If you see a Muslim at the airport in the weeks, months or years to come, show solidarity, warmth and reach out, especially if they are under attack. If your local airport has actions against detentions, attend with open arms welcoming refugees and immigrants. If you can donate, assist organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the International Refugee Assistance Project, or the International Rescue Committee (plus hundreds of others doing critical work). If you have five minutes, call your local representative and give them a piece of your mind about how unconstitutional the recently-issued executive orders are. And if you see a Muslim at the airport, show them you know they are not an enemy.