Donald Trump, the American President Elect has made many incendiary comments about immigrants and minorities. He has accused Mexicans of being "criminals, drug-dealers and rapists" And at a December 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, just a few days after the San Bernardino shooting (involving a Muslim American couple), He told thousands of supporters: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."
These comments have created enormous anxiety amongst ordinary American Muslims.
The Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015. This means that Muslims made up about 1% of the total U.S. population (about 322 million people in 2015). Moreover it's estimated that this share will double by 2050.
Alyiah al-Bonijim is a nineteen year old student at University Michigan. Tall, slim and hijab-wearing she has the voice and indeed the eyes, of a much older woman. There's a slight nervousness as she picks at the skin around her nails and fusses with her blouse.
Given that she's still just a sophomore, Alyiah's language is remarkably complex, full of subtle observations and asides, freighted with intellectual references to Edward Said and others.
"I'm still in shock. America is America. There are checks and balances but with Republicans controlling both the Senate and House of Reps, there's quite a lot he can do. I mean today there was news about Muslims needing to register. "Everyone's scared. No one knows how to react. But I think it's possible to be a Muslim and an American. And when you're looking for examples maybe it's the 'Black' community and Barack Obama: if they can do it I think we all can."
"I think he (Trump) is horrible. But I don't think the threat lies with him. It's the people supporting him. They always held racist views but now they have someone in power they are confident to act on them. Now it's intensified."
When I ask her about her hijab, she replies demurely but very firmly: "given the deep impact of imperialism and colonialism over the Arab world, the act of wearing a hijab is an act of revolution in itself."
Born in the predominantly Arab Muslim town of Dearborn just half an hour from downtown Detroit, her parents are Iraqi Shia refugees who arrived in the USA in 1997.
"I am the youngest of four kids and the only one who was born in the States. My grandfather was the head of the al-Bujirin tribe. The family used to live in Nassyriah and mother recalls it as being very beautiful.
"But Saddam distrusted us because we were Shia. He drained our marshes and then in the early 90's we were blacklisted and kicked out of Iraq.
The family were stuck in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia for seven years before being resettled by the Red Cross in the States. There was lots of financial support from welfare to food stamps. This helped my family survive and I'm forever grateful to the Red Cross and in fact they've inspired me to want to do something in the field of international services and resettlement."
"One half of the family were resettled in the Australia. We were sent to the States and at first to Utah but my mother and sisters had heard of Dearborn so we moved here.
Apart from being the global Headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn with Muslims comprising between 30/40% of its population has become the most populous Muslim centre in North American.
Indeed driving through the town is a slightly surreal experience - passing by strip-malls with halal butchers, hookah stores and Lebanese patisseries all emblazoned with Arabic script. Dearborn is predominantly Shia though Alyiah insists that many of her best friends are Sunni, adding that the cultural differences are important: "the Lebanese speak Arabic with a soft, feminine manner whereas the Yemenis are very fast and the Iraqi's rather harsh and aggressive. We always joke that the Lebanese are pretentious!"
As Alyiah herself admits, her father was a shadowy and irregular presence leaving her mother who was prone to clinical depression to bring up the four children.
"We've moving constantly over the years. We started off in a large apartment with five families crammed together but fortunately we've been able to settle on something more stable. My eldest brother sadly had to drop out of University of Michigan and my elder two siblings are waiting to move onto study for professional qualifications. “I know I am very blessed."
Alyiah is a smart and hard-working young woman. She has options. But many in her community have not seized opportunities with the determination she has displayed: "I have done a few 'study-abroads' in Morocco and Israel/Palestine. Yes, it's unusual for me as a sophomore. I was over zealous!"
As with many Muslim girls she has realized the key importance of education saying; "it's the only way to get out into a more diverse environment.
Dearborn is great but I want to experience something new and different." As we conclude I ask her how she feels about the Trump victory going forward: "I'm hoping that it will all die down. Otherwise I have enough of a community because so long as you have moral support, everything will be ok."
Thu Nov 17 2016
Alyiah Al-Bonijim is the youngest of four children and was born in Dearborn, Michigan.
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