As a Muslim, Wafaa Ateyah said she felt most vulnerable during the 2016 presidential election.
Weeks after President Donald Trump’s initial proposal of a ban on predominantly Muslim countries, Ateyah was riding on an RTS bus from campus to the Oaks Mall when someone got on, pointed at her and mouthed the words “f--- you.”
She stayed silent.
Ateyah, a 22-year-old Egyptian-American UF alumna and associate research coordinator in the university’s psychology department, said this wasn’t the first time she realized her faith had become a target.
For her, these challenges as a Muslim woman have only worsened under Trump’s administration. Even pumping gas in her car while wearing a hijab has become a source of anxiety, Ateyah said.
With more than one million registered Muslim voters in the U.S, the group is expected to be a deciding factor in the 2020 elections, according to a press release from The Council on American-Islamic Relations, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization.
The organization added that they believe the election season is continuing to fuel anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate. They believe it will rise as Election Day approaches.
Only 16 percent of Muslim Americans approve of Trump as president, according to a 2019 survey from The Institute of Policy and Understanding or ISPU. This number dropped drastically from 2016, when surveys showed that 78 percent of Muslim Americans approved of then-President Barack Obama.
“Whether it’s the stares that you’re going to get, or just the verbal attacks that you’re going to get or even in your place of worship,” Ateyah said that she’s experienced acts of xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia that she feels have been normalized under the current administration.
Ateyah said an ideal administration is a transparent one that amplifies the voices of all people and encourages a culture of care, especially when it comes to issues such as healthcare, immigration and the environment.
For her, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders embodies this ideal.
Sanders has won the support of U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to the House, as well as EMGAGE, one of the biggest Muslim political action committees in the nation.
“His political history speaks for itself,” Ateyah said.
Ateyah said Sanders has continuously advocated and fought for the rights of all marginalized, oppressed and underserved people. She said it’s important to elect a president who prioritizes the needs of the people over personal gain.
“Bernie is the type of leader that will make sure everyone is at the table and no one has to go through a continuous cycle of struggle to have their experiences heard and validated.”
Sana Nimer, the current UF district B senator and former 2018-19 president of UF Islam On Campus, said she believes the current presidency has brought out “so much of the hatred that already existed.”
There have been more than 20 anti-Muslim attacks on mosques in Florida since 2005, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The 22-year-old UF biomedical engineering senior cited Trump’s statements, such as “I think Islam hates us,” as well as his plan for a “total and complete” shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
Nimer said that not only as a woman, but as a Muslim Palestinian American, she feels like she must be hyper-aware of her surroundings at all times.
“It’s just that fear that no matter what you do, there’s always a threat,” Nimer said.
While Nimer declined to say who she’s supporting this upcoming election, she said it’s important to her that foreign policy issues such as the ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are addressed by potential candidates.
There are only a few candidates who have a history of supporting the views they preach, she said.
“We’re not asking for much,” Nimer said. “We just want to be able to just like live safely without having to worry that we’re going to be attacked at any moment.”
Although a new president may not get rid of this threat that she and other Muslims face, Nimer said that it does play a role in national acceptance of acts of hatred fueled by racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
“It’s a lot less encouraging for people to commit conflicts like that once they know that they’re not being supported by the head of state and not literally be cheered for at rallies for stuff like that,” Nimer said.
People died to give us the right to vote, Nimer said. She said that anyone able to honor those who sacrificed their lives for this right should use their vote to do so.
“Don’t underestimate the power of your vote,” Nimer said.
Contact Samia Lagmis at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SLagmis.