Being a Muslim In Idaho During a Time of Backlash

Jan 14, 2016

It has not been an easy past few months to be a Muslim in America. After the Paris attacks, presidential candidate Donald Trump said there should be a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. His polls immediately soared. In Boise, the Islamic Center says the Muslim population in the Treasure Valley may well be over ten thousand.  Now, some of Boise's Muslims are sharing how it feels to be a Muslim in the current political climate. 

On a recent Friday, about 40 Muslim students gathered at the Boise State Student Union for prayer and fellowship. One sings versus from the Koran. That’s followed by a sermon on striving to become a better person.

Hakeem Muhamad, who grew up in the U.S. and just graduated from Boise State, says a big problem is how Muslims are portrayed in the media. Helping the poor, for example, is largely ignored by the media who instead focus on terrorism.  

"If up to the seventh neighbor of yours is sleeping hungry, it's on you to provide food for them," says Hakeem. "Unfortunately this doesn't sell in the media."

Hakeem’s sister Noora agrees that media are partly to blame. She also believes people like Donald Trump are painting a complex religion with a broad brush. 

"With Donald Trump saying that we're all Jihadists, what about me? I grew up in America, I've learned American culture and I absolutely love it," says Noora. "Yet I'm still a Muslim woman and I love being a Muslim American."

Despite the anti-Islam rhetoric, Noora says she’s actually found a lot of people to be open-minded. That includes her fellow classmates. Noora reflects on her first semester when some of her classmates learned she was Muslim. At first they were hesitant. But she says they slowly began asking questions and were intrigued with her answers. 

"It's all about being respectful towards them and answering the questions they have," says Noora. 

Ali Aldosari is an international student from Saudi Arabia. One of the aspects of American culture that he respects is the country’s diversity. For him, Donald Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country will lead to the scapegoating other groups.  

"Now he's saying that Muslims should not come to this country," says Aldosari. "If he does that, then he's going to come back to the Mexicans, then the Asians. Then the U.S. will no longer be the greatest country in the world."

Nationally, attacks and threats against Muslims have been on the rise following the attacks in Paris. The Boise Islamic Center received one harassing phone message last month. But John Landis, the center’s director of outreach, says there’s also been a surge in calls of support, including Jewish and Christian leaders here. 

But some Idaho lawmakers will be listening to Christian Pastor Shahram Hadian, a convert from Islam who says the religion seeks global dominance. That concerns Said Ahmed Zaid, a Muslim who regularly attends prayers at the Islamic Center in Boise. 

"I don't think an anti-Muslim pastor is the best source for educating our legislature," says Zaid. "It sends a message to Idahoan Muslims that they're not welcome in this state." 

A big concern for many of Boise’s Muslims is that while direct harassment is rare at this point, they worry that rhetoric from lawmakers both locally and nationally could lead to even further marginalization from a society they say they want to be a part of. Zaid says a counter event featuring Muslims and their supporters is in the works to give lawmakers a holistic view of the religion. 

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