Hispanic Muslims Twice-Vulnerable Under Trump

Most Latino Muslims are women who have converted. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario)

Three-times persecuted: for being Mexican, a woman and Muslim. Three times the target of President Donald Trump’s policies. That is how Fátima Flores, an immigrant born in the Mexican state of Puebla, feels. She converted to Islam in 2014.

The 36-year-old Union City, New Jersey, resident prevents her two small children from listening to the news at all costs, admitting that she does not know how to deal with “this new slavery in the land of liberties.”

“Trump hates us because we are Muslim. Trump hates us because our mother is Mexican,” she hears her children say every day when they come back home from school. She says that she no longer feels safe in the street, at work, or when she goes to the mosque to pray.

However, this fear is not new to her. Flores said that discrimination existed before the arrival of Trump’s administration. She experienced it when she first arrived in New Jersey 17 years ago.

“I have been discriminated against before for being Mexican. Now I’m being discriminated against because I am Muslim,” she said tearfully.

Flores says that she feels a surge of anger in her chest when “Trump spews hateful words coming from his heart,” but she clings to her faith. She still has hope.

“Every community has risen up. They all have expressed their support for Muslims. I feel sheltered when I see all those people demonstrating at the airport [John F. Kennedy]. We are not alone,” she said, smiling. “I think that, now more than ever, there is solidarity. Trump has awakened unity; he has made us see each other as brethren again. Thank God there are good things happening in the midst of all the bad.”

Latino Muslims are still a minority in the United States. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario)

“It is getting dangerous”

Still, there is concern among religious leaders at the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center mosque in Union City, which Flores attends with her two children.

AbdurRazzaq Abu Sumayyah, of Puerto Rican descent, said that “frustration and uncertainty” are some of the feelings Latino Muslims share after Trump signed the order banning the entrance of people from seven countries with a Muslim majority for 90 days, and suspending the admission of refugees for 120 days.

“Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do. He is leading a government of discrimination, of racism, of hatred. We Muslims are deeply concerned; we are being persecuted,” said Abu Sumayyah, pointing to the Quebec terrorist attack perpetrated by an alleged Trump sympathizer. “We are seeing that this hate is now spreading among the members of our community, and it is getting dangerous.”

Abu Sumayyah said that he fears for the safety of his wife and daughter, who [both] wear a hijab. “I am twice scared, because they are Latina and Muslim. I am scared that my family may get hurt. I am afraid for the women in the mosque. We are trapped by fear. We do not feel free,” said the religious leader. 

The North Hudson Islamic Educational Center mosque in Union City. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario)

Flores shares the fears expressed by Abu Sumayyah, which is why she decided to not allow her daughter to wear a hijab out in the street or at school.

“I will let my daughter wear the hijab when she is strong enough to deal with what professing her faith openly implies,” she said. “I could not bear to see my daughter suffering from mockery and attacks. It would be too painful.”

Worse for undocumented people

Trump’s executive orders have caused concern among Latino Muslims, but particularly among those who are Mexican or Central American immigrants and are not U.S. citizens.

“Undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans live in fear of being massively deported, but the fear is greater among those who are Muslim or Latinos with Muslim spouses. The Islamic faith will be persecuted under Trump’s administration,” said Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. “During the electoral campaign, Trump talked about creating a Muslim registry, which would result in further indignation and fear among Muslims living in the United States and among Americans who reject such a discriminatory measure.”

Chesnut pointed out that Latinos are a minority among Muslims in the United States – less than 1 percent, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center report. This figure represents some 265,000 Latino Muslims, most of whom are converted women.

At the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center mosque, Hispanics are still a minority, said Abu Sumayyah.

“We are about a hundred Latino families regularly attending the mosque. Most are immigrants, which makes us more vulnerable,” he said.

Chesnut estimates that, due to the intensification of Islamophobia in the country and the proliferation of attacks against mosques (such as the suspicious Victoria, Texas, mosque fire, not far Houston, the city with the first Spanish-speaking Islamic center), the number of conversions may drop, particularly among Latinas. This sector of the population has been the focus of the religion’s proselytism efforts.

“Islam may stop growing among Latinos during Trump’s term, but it will expand in the long term,” said the professor.

A unified offensive

On Monday, Jan. 30, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) presented a federal lawsuit against Trump’s executive order, referring to it as a “Muslim exclusion order.”

Attorney Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, spokesman for the group, explained that the lawsuit is based on the executive order being unconstitutional and in violation of the guarantees of religious freedom contained in the First Amendment and of equal protection in the Fifth Amendment.

“President Trump tried to make an unconstitutional ban legal,” said Ruiz. “This is not just about his hateful rhetoric or about him signing to support a damaging executive order. This is the greatest expression of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States in recent years.”

The federal lawsuit is part of an offensive that goes beyond the outrage, said Ruiz. Trump’s executive orders have strengthened an interfaith alliance to confront “an imminent-risk situation.”

“We are reinforcing our old alliances with other communities of faith and creating new ties.”

“Many of our mosques in the United States are unable to serve as sanctuaries because the physical conditions do not allow for it, but there are Christian denomination churches that are opening their doors,” he said.

That is the case with the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center mosque, explained Abu Sumayyah.

“We are learning from the Sanctuary Movement, although we have decided that it is not prudent, at least for now, to turn the mosque into a sanctuary,” said Abu Sumayyah. “There is no guarantee that immigration authorities will not violate the sanctuary condition of our mosques under the Trump administration. Still, New York’s Christian churches have offered to shelter our families at risk.”

The religious leaders have also asked elected officials and police departments for protection. According to the office of Union City Mayor Brian Stack, 95 percent of the city’s residents are of Hispanic descent.

“Police officers guard the mosque on Fridays, when [we] Muslims have our main day of prayer. We are grateful to the mayor and the Union City police for refusing to take part in Trump’s policies,” said Abu Sumayyah.

(…) Based on Census figures, the Pew Research Center calculates that 3 percent of the New York City metropolitan area population of 20 million follows Islam. This percentage represents some 603,000 Muslims.

Muslims in the U.S. and NY:

  • 1 percent of the U.S.’s total population (322 million) are Muslim.
  • 3.3 millions – The estimated total of Muslim people living in the country in 2015.
  • Of those, 1 percent are Muslims of Latino descent.
  • 265,000 – The total number of Hispanic Muslims in the country. Most of them are converted women.
  • 3 percent of the population of the New York City metro area professes Islam.
  • 603,000 – The total number of Muslims living in the New York City metro area.

Pew Research Center

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