Kristin, you worked professionally with Muslim refugees for years before marrying Mahmoud. I saw how emotionally invested you were in the lives of your clients/friends even then, but your marriage has surely made the Muslim experience in America even more personal to you. How has being married to a Muslim man shaped your perception of religious prejudice here?
My time working directly with refugee clients all occurred in post-9/11 America. I think the implications of that really informed my emotional investment in my Muslim refugee clients. In many ways, my Muslim clients seemed like underdogs; they were fighting to build a life in a country that was increasingly more suspicions of them and certainly more suspicious of them than of the Christian refugee clients I encountered. I saw religious prejudice or preference as well as the reality of the immigrant experience long before Mahmoud arrived to the U.S. I can say for certain that all of these things became more personal to me once he was here trying to carve out his own place in our society. Would he be treated well? Would he find meaningful work? Would he be able to be himself without shame? Suddenly, the questions that I asked myself often about my refugee clients became heavier as they became real questions bouncing off the walls of our own home.
It is hard to describe exactly how overwhelming it can feel to suddenly feel immersed in the minority experience. As a white, college educated, middle class girl, I have never had to worry. Not once. Not about whether my name would cause others to judge me. Not about whether my capabilities or ability to learn would be called into question. Not about whether others may be suspicious of where my loyalties lie. But now, I do worry. I worry about all of it for Mahmoud. He is the best, he takes it all in stride.
It is no secret that we are living in an era of distrust of the Muslim community. I don’t really know what to say about how it has impacted our lives, but I can say without doubt that it hurts my husband. I’ve seen him watch the news defaming Islam or engage in conversations with those unwilling to entertain the idea of Islam being a religion of peace, and watched the light within him dim. His faith is personal to his very core and to live in a society that does not always value his faith is exhausting.
In the few years that Mahmoud has lived in the U.S., has his experience been more positive or more negative than he originally expected?
Mahmoud does a great job of avoiding the chatter, which likely contributes to his ability to remain calm, warm, and open to others. He does not have a single social media account. Mahmoud is a very ‘mind your own business’ type of guy; he desires to go about his daily life without bothering anyone and hoping to find others offering cordial exchanges. Although he makes conscious efforts to stay away from drama, he is not oblivious to the rhetoric around him.
In the past year-long election season, when the idea of a ban on Muslims entering the country was initially presented, and of course ultimately with the shocking election outcome, have you felt the general attitude of Americans change towards Muslims? Or does it feel about the same as it did a year ago?
America is the greatest experiment on the face of the Earth. We are a nation of immigrants, utilizing the ingenuity and strength of diverse individuals to build a strong and cohesive society. Somewhere along the way it just feels like we have forgotten that we belong to one another. We’ve been personally hurt this election season as we have seen those we love fail to stand up to the bigotry.
In terms of American attitudes changing toward Muslims, there are numerous examples of this. Failure to call crimes against Muslims hate crimes, such as the Chapel Hill shooting that took the lives of three promising young American Muslims. A knee-jerk response to all crimes committed by someone with a Muslim sounding name or Arab decent to be labeled as terrorist acts, while angry white men on shooting rampages are called mentally disturbed. Calls by some to only admit Christian refugees into our country, as if Muslim refugees will certainly plan to hurt us regardless of the fact that they too are running from terror. Numerous hate crimes which are on the rise since the election season began. Some examples of hate crimes targeting Muslims include a tourist in NYC with a hijab on who was set on fire, a teacher told to hang herself with her hijab because it “isn’t allowed” in Trump’s America, and relentless threats of deportation for those that appear Muslim regardless of their citizenship, including a NYC cop. The Muslim community has reported that they feel less safe since the election season began than they did in the aftermath of 9/11. That is scary.
Have you or other Muslims you love experienced any acts of hate or xenophobia in the past month?
After the election, were there certain responses from friends or family members that were particularly comforting to you?
Were there responses that were particularly hurtful?
I know you – and others like you – are hurting. What do you need from us, maybe specifically from your Christian friends and family?
Thank you to the Hassans for this vulnerable glimpse into their lives and hearts! I hope it doesn't need to be said, but any negative or hypercritical comments (either here or FB) will be immediately deleted. There is a time and place for civil discourse, but this is not it. This is simply an invitation to listen to your neighbor. Thanks for understanding and respecting that!