Over the course of his first term as president, Donald Trump continuously attacked the Muslim community. Once, he called Islam “a cancer”; most famously, he targeted majority-Mulim countries with a xenophobic travel ban. And yet with this history of disregard for their community, with the rising rates of Islamophobia towards Muslim Americans, still some Muslims chose to vote for Trump this past November. Now, with President Joe Biden inaugurated as the 46th president, it’s worth exploring why some Muslims still opted for Trump — and how Biden could possibly bring them into his coalition.
The Associated Press conducted a survey in the days leading up to the 2020 election that found that while the majority of Muslims did vote for Biden, 35% voted for Trump. This percentage was actually higher than the results from an exit poll conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in late September, which found that only 18% of Muslim voters planned to support Trump. Overall, Biden won among Muslim voters by a large margin, yet the fact that any Muslims voted for Trump at all can feel unbelievable.
That’s why Mic spoke to several Muslim Trump supporters to understand their support for the incumbent president. Sajid Tarar, one of the co-chairs of Muslim Voices for Trump, explained that Trump is merely against “troublemakers” and “not against Islam,” instead blaming the media for skewing Trump’s views.
Farhana Shifa, the other Muslim Voices for Trump co-chair, cited Article II of the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides the president the authority to decide who would be detrimental when coming into the United States and place restrictions accordingly. Because of this law, Trump’s decision to target majority-Muslim countries was not discriminatory, but rather an exercise in protecting national security. ”Remember that the terrorists do not come as an individual, they infiltrate the system with families and children,” Shifa tells Mic.
Saba Ahmed, the founder of Republican Muslim Coalition, agrees that that the travel ban Trump ordered in the earliest days of his presidency was due to a valid national security need to monitors all those coming into the United States. “He has banned Venezuela and North Korea in that executive order, which hardly have any Muslims,” Ahmed notes.
Aside from national security, Trump’s views on social values also aligned better with these voters’ own values, they said. Shifa believes Trump is the most pro-life of all presidents, for example, and explains that her Muslim faith makes her feel more aligned with Republicans because she believes in God and family values. “I believe in union between man and woman; also I do not support abortion or infanticide. I have hard time [understanding] how my Muslim brothers and sisters can support the sin of killing life in the name of women's right to her body and choice. Aren’t they ignoring God's will and presence through life?”
Ahmed makes a similar argument about how the Republican Party broadly aligns better with his Islamic values. “The GOP party platform aligns with conservative Islamic values and principles, [like] traditional family values, pro-life, pro-business, pro-trade policies,” he explains. Zia Pacha, a resident of Washington, D.C., agrees, saying the “Republican Party is as much open to Muslims” as the Democratic Party is because of “shared conservative principles.”
“We are often told to look at Democratic Party and its principles as the only saviors and told to ignore the Republican ideals who somehow hate us,” Pacha adds.
Tarar says that he appreciates Trump’s publicly pacifist stance, and notes that former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had bombed his home country of Pakistan. He also says he leans Republican because he “cannot stand with the LGBTQ community. I’m not against them, but the government should not promote LGBTQ on taxpayer’s money.”
“The Muslim American community should be treated with same priority as other groups like African Americans and LGBTQ.”
In the end, Trump lost the election. He will not be these voters’ president; Biden will be. Pacha says that for Biden to win over voters like him, he has to enact real change. Biden had long promised to overturn the travel ban if he won office, and he followed through on that promise Wednesday, issuing an executive order shortly after he was inaugurated. But “overturning the travel ban is symbolic,” Pacha says, and Biden “should do more for the Muslim American community at large. Listen to them and have a discussion with them on what matters to them. The Muslim American community should be treated with same priority as other groups like African Americans and LGBTQ, who are being viewed as having preferential treatment from Biden.”
He can also adopt a foreign policy that prioritizes “more peace and diplomacy, and promote a good transparent image to the wider Islamic world,” Pacha says. “Create more friends rather than enemies.”
For his part, Ahmed “would like to see the Biden administration move forward to unite America,” and he hopes that Biden does not “start new wars or engage in endless conflicts abroad. He needs to win the hearts and minds of the American public.”
But not everyone is hopeful. Tarar in particular is skeptical that there’s anything Biden can do to win him over. “How can socialism, drugs, and same-sex marriage versus conservatism, freedom, and patriotism work together?” he says.
All of the Muslims Mic spoke with agreed on one thing, though: the need for Muslims to be active in the political space.“Muslims must get involved in the Republican Party to change the anti-Islamic sentiments within American mainstream politics,” Ahmed says.
Shifa encourages all voters to be truthful to themselves to decide which party is more in alignment with their faith and lifestyle. Because leaders come and go, “the direction of our country is on our hands,” she says. “I would ask all Americans to be informed and read or research about the Republican and Democratic Party platforms and values.”
Tarar echoes the message. “Make sure you are counted and make sure somebody is representing you,” he says. “Make sure somebody is talking about you, and be involved.”