Like most Americans watching the early returns on election night, Ehsan Khan never expected Donald Trump to win. Khan is a leader of the Islamic Center of Northridge, the largest mosque in the San Fernando Valley. He says Muslims in Northridge spent the past year brushing off Trump's divisive campaign pledges, including his proposed ban on Muslim immigrants and a national registry for all Muslims living in the United States. On the Democrat ticket, Hillary Clinton was highlighting the patriotism of Muslim-Americans, and she was ahead in the polls.
The prevailing sentiment among the faithful, as Khan describes it, was one of forbearance: Trump could say what he wished, because Trump wasn't going to win.
“When the unthinkable happened that night,” Khan says, “all Muslim organizations started getting a lot of calls from people asking, 'How do we cope with this?'”
The initial sense of shock and disbelief has led to apprehension, as Muslim leaders in L.A. monitor the latest news from Trump Tower on the cabinet appointments and policy directives of the new president-elect. On Friday, Trump named U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as his attorney general, the official who would be responsible for implementing — and has voiced support for — Trump's campaign pledge for a complete shutdown on Muslims entering this country.
On Monday, the FBI released a report showing that the number of hate crimes against Muslims rose 67 percent last year. Muslim leaders in Los Angeles blame the recent surge of hostility on Trump's anti-Muslim statements during the campaign. And they say the situation has worsened since Trump was elected.
The Anaheim office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reports having received more than 40 complaints of verbal or physical attacks against Muslims in Los Angeles County, Orange County and the Inland Empire since the day after the election. They allege that Southern California has seen a spike in acts of aggression against Muslim organizations and individuals who are “visibly Muslim” — who include women wearing headscarves, dark-complected men with beards, and Arabic speakers.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA, says he believes the current degree of hostility against Muslims is unprecedented in Southern California. “I've been doing this social-justice activism for 30 years now, and I've never seen such a degree of anger, ignorance, bigotry, disrespect, vulgarity and incivility as I'm seeing from many of the self-proclaimed Trump supporters,” Ayloush told L.A. Weekly.
Southern California is one of the most diverse and socially progressive regions in the country, and Ayloush acknowledged that CAIR has received fewer complaints from Muslims here than elsewhere in the country.
But he says he is alarmed at the spate of angry comments and rude or threatening gestures directed toward Muslims in traffic, in parking lots and on college campuses. Women wearing a hijab have been the most frequent targets, Ayloush says.
Majdi Bitar, one of the directors of the Burbank Islamic Center, estimates that 15 of his congregants have come to him since the election to report overt acts of hostility against them based on their Muslim faith. “We tell them you need to report it. But they come and talk to us, they don't report it to the police,” Bitar told L.A. Weekly. “So many altercations. The sisters, ladies, are verbally told, 'Go back to your home.' Things like that. These are American-born women, raised here and going to school.”
Bitar says that one member of the mosque, a woman in her mid-40s, was accosted on the sidewalk by an older man who pulled off her headscarf. Bitar says many of the Muslims who attend religious service at the Burbank Islamic Center are immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. “People are afraid, and a lot of them don't know what to do,” he says. He called Trump's plan for a national registry of Muslims and a ban on Muslim immigrants “unethical and inhumane.”
Ayloush says that by far the largest number of verbal attacks and threats against Muslims in Los Angeles has occurred on social media.
Beginning the morning after the elections, CAIR-LA has been targeted several dozen times via its accounts on Facebook and Twitter, Ayloush says. Two of the comments were death threats, mentioning guns and ammunition, which CAIR-LA reported to the Anaheim police. The organization has reported dozens more comments to Facebook or Twitter for removal. While not direct threats, these comments have included statements such as “death to Islam” or “death to Muslims” and that Muslims deserved to die, Ayloush says.
Ayloush and other Muslim leaders in L.A. are urging the Muslim faithful to remain patient and calm. Ehsan Khan says the Islamic Center Northridge has been lucky so far; the mosque has not received any reports of religiously motivated attacks since the election.
“As a mosque, our job is to calm our community down,” Khan says. “We are vigilant, and if anything like that happens we tell them let us know, to mitigate it or prevent it from happening again.”
“We're not in a panic mode as an American Muslim community,” Ayloush says. “But it's time for [Trump] to take responsibility as the elected president and take all measures necessary to reunite the country, undo some of the divisiveness and anxiety he has caused during his campaign, and reassure all Americans that he truly plans to be a president for all Americans, not just those who voted for him.”