It was 5:00 a.m. when I woke up for my morning prayer. Folding away my prayer rug, I walked over to the TV.
The screen lit up. “President-Elect. Donald Trump”.
I pressed the “off” button,coiled up, and hugged my knees, I wanted to just crawl back under the covers.
And then I cried.
This is not the first time my candidate has lost an election. But this is the first time I cried. When my husband held me, I cried. When I started getting comfort-emails, I cried. And when I turned off that TV because I couldn’t take it anymore, and the house became quiet, I cried again. This was personal.
I had to give a lecture that afternoon, on Islam 101. There was no way I could face the class.
My cell phone blinked. A text. A verse from the Quran, “Nothing shall befall us except what Allah has willed for us. He alone is our Protector, so in Allah, let the believers place their trust.”
Things happen for a reason. Trust God.
I pulled myself together, got dressed, and went to class.
“Good morning. I did not have a good morning.” I put it out there. The murmurs of affirmation, gave me just the lift I needed, as did the warmth of their words when they surrounded me after the lecture.
Yet, walking home, I worried. How are we going to contain the genie released from the bottle? Who is going to control the man on the street who believes his actions are sanctioned by the highest authority in the land?
Yearning for comfort, that evening my husband and I walked down to the local synagogue where people, in a state of shock, had assembled. I found solace in our collective misery. The rabbi’s speech was balm to my bleeding heart. He appealed to us to take concrete steps to ensure that our values remain cherished, urging us to play our role, as individuals. I felt a sense of direction. It doesn’t matter who is at the helm, we have to “…ask what we can do for our country,” and then do it.
Wasn’t it Martin Luther King who said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Get up and dust yourself. Enough of this moping and ‘how could this have happened’ stuff; stop watching the TV commentators tell you the whys and the what-ifs; and get rid of that long face, lady, you have work to do.
I didn’t roll up my sleeves, I actually rolled them down, donned my warm and ugly quilted coat, pulled that funny looking fur cap down over my ears, and stepped out into the biting cold and howling wind. My husband and I were off to the #IAMAMERICA vigil in Washington Square Park. Under the arch, there we were, faith and community leaders across the spectrum, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, young and seniors (me), as we pushed back against the chilling head wind, and remained standing.
The rabbi called out: “I am an ancient tree…my roots are deep, my trunk is solid, my branches spread out high and strong, I have stood up to the winds and storms…let us hold each other’s branches and stand strong…” and people reached out and held their neighbor’s hands. Someone held my hand. I was left with the words of one of the speakers: “Remember … the majority voted with us. We are not alone in this.”
Seeking the company of that “majority,” I strode into Cooper Union University to listen to the mayor. “Our values don’t change because the election went another way.” I leaned forward as he made a pledge: “If all Muslims are required to register, we will take legal action to block it.” In the resounding applause, I heard the sounds of solidarity, and felt the warmth of the mayor’s hand on my back.
A surge of hope, and I was ready. Ready to join, or even start a movement. But what exactly?
“We Will Wage Peace,” I heard Sheryl Olitzky pronounce, rousing the assembly of 400-plus Muslim and Jewish women of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. If you have any doubts about women waging peace, remember the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell? Women in Liberia—Muslim and Christian—sick of the civil war, dragged their husbands to the peace table, locking them inside with a threat: make peace or we will strip in public. Peace happened. Except that this time around, the agenda was not about ending a civil war, rather about preventing one. Okay, so I exaggerate. But let’s face it. If our nation does not come together as one nation under God, and if we continue to look upon one another as “the other,” we might as well be in a cold civil war. A very cold one. Think of the energy. Muslim and Jewish women, from all over the US, coming together to bond in friendship. “Write down your goals for 2017,” a speaker urged, and before I could put pen to paper, I knew what I had to do.
“I have a New Year resolution,” I told my husband that evening. “I will visit 10 cities and give 50 lectures on ‘Being Muslim in America’, and make ourselves known.” We put a call to our network: ‘Invite us and we shall come’. The New Year lights are still twinkling, and already people from 11 cities have invited us, with 38 lectures scheduled. Gracious invitations from people we know, and people we don’t know, from towns I had to find on Google Maps. But before I expect my fellow Americans to embrace diversity, I will first open my arms, my heart, and my mind. I am going to get out of my comfort zone. I will hang out with people who disagree with me, read autobiographies of people who shock me, and become a member of groups where I feel totally out of place. I may just learn something as I make myself uncomfortable.
I didn’t cry when Obama make his farewell speech. Just felt a sense of loss. He was a man before his time. We now have a new man in his place. I watched him place his hand on the Bible, and take an oath, an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States. So help him God. Help him unite the United States, the place where I want to continue to feel at home in my home, the land of liberty and justice for ALL.
-By Sabeeha Rehman, author of Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, Guest Blogger
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