The Muslim Student Association and Howell House on Tuesday night hosted a panel of Muslim immigrants who are educators, writers, activists, and politicians in Maine. The speakers shared their stories about starting their lives in the US and how President Trump administration’s rhetoric and actions have affected them and Muslim communities in the state.
Organizers Mohamed Nur ’19 and Salim Aymen Salim ’20 invited prominent figures in Maine’s Muslim communities to the event.
Abdullahi Ahmed, the assistant principal at Deering High School in Portland, talked about the effect Trump’s now stalled executive order — essentially a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim nations and on all refugees coming into the US — had had on Maine’s Muslims, and non-Muslims. He said many people of all races have told him they do not support Trump’s immigration policies, and that they are ready to support Muslim communities.
Fatuma Hussein, the executive director of the United Somali Women of Maine and mother of eight, said that her kids are scared to go to school because they have started to question whether they are American enough — even though they were born in Maine. She also said she was verbally harassed for wearing a headscarf.
Pious Ali, the first African-born Muslim elected to Portland’s City Council, talked about the lack of political representation for Muslims in America. He mentioned that Muslims have a long history in the US — Islam was brought over with African slaves — and that Muslims shouldn’t be considered outsiders in this country.
Reza Jalali, the coordinator at University of Southern Maine Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, told the audience, “These are dark times,” adding that he was scared Muslims could be required to register the way European Jews had to under the Nazi regime. He read aloud a satirical letter he had written to America, written as if from an immigrant, from any country: “Don’t do this America; not now, not ever. We thought we were special friends. We cooked you curry, we made you falafel, we brought music, spices from our land, we taught you how to do salsa, yoga.”
Nur said in an email that it was important to him, as the son of Somali Muslim Immigrants, to hold an event that “humanizes immigration because there are real people, with faces, names, and stories of their own.” He continued, “Immigrants are the backbone of this country, and color the beautiful tapestry of America. Immigrants add value to the U.S., and they are one of our greatest strengths as a nation. I also wanted this event to be educational and inspiring, as the panelists are doing incredible work in Maine and changing their respective communities and the state for the better.”
Students in the audience asked the panelists about ways they could show solidarity with the Muslim communities in Maine and in the US. Hussein spoke about the challenges faced by Somalian immigrants in Lewiston, Maine, and urged people to have an open-mind, to take a stand against hate and fear rhetoric. “Don’t be silent, don’t be bystanders. Speak up for the vulnerable,” she said.