Reflections on Moving Forward in the Era of President Trump


Here's a glimpse into how my Tuesday evening went. We sat down to eat, with my kids asking if it was true we'd have to pack our bags and leave the country depending on the election outcome. After assuring them that we would not, I took a break to record a YouTube video for my new channel. One of the points I made in that video was that adversity happens to everyone, and we choose how to view it and the action we take in response to it. It didn't dawn on me that I would have to find a way to apply that lesson the morning after the election.

After recording, I headed over to attend Sh. AbdulNasir's seerah class. I thought it would be a much needed break from the election coverage. Except when I tried to listen, I couldn't help but check Twitter. I sat there, watching in real time as class went on the chances of Trump winning go up to over 57%.

Fast forward, and I'm watching Trump deliver his acceptance speech. He looked like the only person who might have been more shocked than the rest of the country. It seemed like the first time he was giving a rehearsed speech someone else wrote, and with the face of someone who clearly would rather go back to running his businesses than taking on the task of governing.

So what now?

I don't have the answers, but I did want to share some reflections I've had in trying to move forward.

Get Busy Planting Seeds

This hadith is the first one that came to mind after it became apparent Trump was going to win.

We can't change the fact that Trump won. We can choose how we respond to it.

If we want to know why we didn't have a viable 3rd party option, it's because we never planted the seeds 4, 8, 12, or 16 years ago. Trees don't sprout overnight. They take time to grow, and we are going to have to plant seeds that may not bear fruit until after our lifetimes.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to force us into action. This is the time to start voting and being active in our local city/county elections, and finding ways to help third-party candidates gain traction.

The hadith above isn't just about action, it's also about hope. No matter what the situation is, we have to do our part with optimism and compassion. That doesn't mean that things won't be difficult, or that we might not see an increase in Islamophobia. What it does mean, now more than ever, is we have to make a conscious choice to plant the seeds of generosity and kindness in society.

Rethinking Our Activism Approach

The 8 years of the Obama administration has been an interesting time for Muslim activism (see: Obama is Muslim, White House Iftar, MLI, and others). The crux of a lot of the Muslim community's focus over the past 8 years, in my perception, boils down to 2 agenda items:

  1. Having a seat at the table
  2. Normalizing/humanizing Muslims

The microcosm of having a seat at the table was the many images of Muslim leaders smiling for photos with Obama as he waged drone attacks on innocent Muslim people. What this really highlighted was both a lack of principle, and a lack of guidance. Our community is simply not united in what our strategic vision should be going forward. White House Iftar 2017 is going to be an interesting one 😔.

Scholars, activists, media members, academics, and community members are all in need of each other. Problems arise when one operates in a vacuum separated from the others. To understand why this is problematic, Evangelicals voting for Trump is exactly what happens when theology and activism become divorced. People take a single issue (such as abortion), and because of wanting to be on what they consider to be right side of that debate, they overlook other moral issues (such as empowering sexual predators and further subjugating their victims into silence).

As for normalizing and humanizing, this to me is a larger issue. We have seen first-hand the effects of the dehumanizing of Muslims, as Suzanne Barakat explains in her heart-breaking TED Talk:

While humanizing is necessary, we need a new strategy beyond trying to show we are cool just like everyone else. We need to change our narrative (as Sana Saeed outlines in this talk on Social Media Activism).

Changing the narrative may seem overwhelming, but it starts at a micro-level. Make sure your co-workers, colleagues, and neighbors get to know you at a human level. We find this example from the life of the Prophet (s). After the boycott when the Muslims were exiled to the outskirts of Makkah for 2 years, they started to re-integrate into a hostile environment. It was at this tense time that the Prophet (s) still took out time to do things like joking and wrestling with the most famous wrestler of their time as Sh. AbdulNasir explains in this video:

The challenge now is seeing how much we are willing to work over the next 4 years to create change. In other words, how many seeds can we plant?

Race & Economics

There's a debate happening online as to whether Trump voters were motivated by race or economics. I think it's both, but also a little more than that.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast episode titled, "‘Secular Rapture’: Trump and the American Dispossessed," which focuses on an author attempting to construct 'deep stories' of families voting for Trump. They talked about how race and economics are easy outs. Beyond this, there is an overriding constellation of fears that are driving this mindset. They are people who are facing tough times (such as economic loss), and they feel everyone else is getting a break (e.g. minorities, welfare, affirmative action). In their eyes, Trump is the only one who is acknowledging them and fighting for them. The other candidates are insiders, elites who make fun of them, call them rednecks, and leave them out in the cold.

Trump found a way to validate them and go to bat for their problems - albeit using a platform of fear, paranoia, and racism. The real question becomes, how do we advocate for policies and candidates that lift people out of economic depression and also bridge the racial divide? It seems Bernie may have been that candidate, but sadly, we won't know.

People Who Aren't on Social Media Swung The Election

If you only follow the news and social media, what happened was shocking. Just like Brexit. I wrote about this in detail earlier this year - How Invisible Filter Bubbles Shape Your Social, Political, and Religious Views.

This election was decided by rural voters and the silent majority - groups who you do not hear from on social media.

[P]undits are disconnected from a vast majority of voters in middle America. When you live in New York City or Washington, D.C. - as many pundits do - you can become blind to seeing middle America, the south and vast swaths of the country. You must accept that your vision of America, might not match the vision of the rest of America. ....

We focused in the media on the loudest, most vocal and often the most-shocking Trump supporters. We tracked the base for Trump and base for Clinton. We said the base was incredibly stable and unchanging, leading to the prediction that Clinton would be President. While we were focused on the base - a new wave of voters were emerging. The silent voters slipped by, unnoticed until election day. ... America, the silent majority is asking "Can you hear me now?" (Marie Whitaker, NBC)

One of the foundations of social media is that it portrays a false sense of reality. The news industry tacked on top of it caters to the bottom-line of what makes money. I've highlighted some of its effects previously in this article.

Glenn Greenwald tweeted this, and I thought it made an excellent point:

Part of changing our narrative is going to be in helping to support other media outlets that are working to put out good journalistic content (such as AJ+).

Crisis of Leadership


It's so painful when bad leaders rise to the top.

Leadership is influence, and in an election where one side nominated an egotistical narcissist, the other side nominated ... the status quo.


There is undoubtedly a void in this country now, and people will be looking for a voice of reason and hope. Leadership is also about creating a vision. If we succumb to the negativity and fear, we can never help uplift people out of the despair they feel.

It is painful when bad leaders rise tot he top, but not surprising. We are the generation that made the Kardashians famous. We are a society that rewards shameless behavior. This is a time, more than ever, that we need morality and ethics in society.

Leadership from the Muslim community should seem like a natural fit on these topics, but we have to be consistent with our values. If race and economics played a role in this election, then we need to take a long hard look at our own communities. How much racism is there in our own households? How much of our donation money is truly going to social justice and helping to lift people out of poverty? What about the economic and racial disparities, and the lack of togetherness, between inner-city and suburban masjids?

These are tough questions we have to tackle, and hopefully this election result becomes an excuse to do so. This kind of leadership takes courage - the same kind of courage that Apple needed to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

Prophetic Method

The Prophet (s) while giving advice to a child, Ibn Abbas (r), said: "Know that if all the people get together in order to benefit you with something, they will not be able to benefit you in anything except what Allah has decreed for you. And if they all get together in order to harm you with something, they will not be able to harm you in anything except what Allah has decreed for you. The pens have stopped writings [Divine Preordainment]. And (the ink over) the papers (Book of Decrees) has dried." (Sahih Bukhari)

One advice that's always stuck out to me has been the concept of tie your camel, and have tawakkul. My hope is that the above reflection points help move us in the direction of tying that camel and working strategically to affect positive change in our communities. The rest, we leave to Allah (swt).

The Age of the Full-Time Imam is Over, Here's What the New Era Of Islamic Work Looks Like


In the corporate arena, there is a new trend emerging - the freelance economy. The hypothesis goes something like this. The age of joining a company, and slowly progressing upward for 30 years and then retiring is done. This used to be the goal for many people, but it no longer reflects reality for most people. Instead, people are switching companies and careers quicker than ever before. They go through 'tours of duty' at one place, then move to another. It's also not one role. People now have multiple job titles - sometimes at the same time. It's not uncommon to have your "day job" and also your side hustle or passion project.

Similarly, the age of the full-time Imam seems to be coming to an end. Gone are the days of someone spending the ages of 8 to 18 regularly going to one masjid, and growing under the guidance of one Imam. Instead, we are seeing the rise of a similar freelance economy. Some Imams will spend 3-5 years in one place, and then move to another community (sometimes moving up, sometimes moving laterally).

The freelancing economy is there in the Muslim community now as well. Instead of working full-time in a community, a person will create a full-time income through some mix of income streams such as-

  • An arrangement with one masjid to give 2 khutbahs a month, and a weekly Halaqah
  • An arrangement with another masjid similar to the above
  • Teaching Sunday school
  • Private tutoring
  • Weekend seminars
  • Fundraising
  • Guest speaking / Traveling
  • Family counseling
  • Teaching at an Islamic school
  • Part-time resident scholar or religious director
  • Ramadan (Taraweeh, classes, khatirahs)
  • Chaplaincy
  • Performing weddings
  • Part-time youth director for one community (or more than one)

The reason for this shift is a constant inability of boards and imams to properly mesh as it comes to vision and leadership. And then when they do mesh, it is upturned in a matter of months with new elections. This is something that has been documented extensively on this website and readers are familiar with by now.

The freelance model provides both parties with a layer of security. Boards don't have to make a commitment to an Imam, and can operate more freely without their oversight (although I would personally make the case that this is usually a very bad idea). Imams are no longer tied down to potentially hostile and unstable work environments, having more freedom and flexibility to move around and try different projects. They're also able to focus their work on their strengths and not having to take on demands outside their scope, as well as create better work/life balance.

The downside to this model is the community members miss out on the long term stability of a full-time Imam. However, this is a price everyone seems willing to pay.

Let me explain.

In any type of community work, there are always checks and balances. For example, an Imam is accountable to a board. If an Imam is underperforming, then it's not too difficult for the board to remove the Imam from that position.

What about if a board member goes renegade? In this case, the checks and balances come from the community. The board represents them, and are elected by them. When the community doesn't hold them accountable, then it results in a lot of the conflicts we see now. In other words, if the community doesn't care that much, and therefore can't put enough pressure to retain a good Imam, then it seems to be a moot point whether the community benefits from their long-term presence or not.

Part of this may be due to the fact that the average community member is also "freelancing" their own spiritual development. Instead of having a deep connection and relationship with one local masjid, they'll often attend different ones regularly. Masjid hopping in Ramadan is not uncommon. Even simple tasks like providing Islamic education for your children can be done online with tutors on Skype. For our own development, we turn to our favorite teachers via online videos, podcasts, and books. So maybe we're just not that dependent on our local community providing those services anymore.

None of this is to say that one model is necessarily better than the other, but an observation of the direction in which we are trending, and how to deal with that.

For the community member, it means taking charge of your own spiritual development and your family's development. Chances are, your masjid will no longer be able to fully provide that due to the (well-documented) lack of human resource development and investment.

For the Imams, or students who wish to serve the community full-time later it means learning the landscape. It means developing the skills needed to function in a "freelance economy." And this is not unique to Islamic work, corporate and professional work is trending the same way. It is important to start identifying the skills needed and close the gap.

Finding a community with infrastructure that will take care of someone is going to be even more rare than the prospect of joining a company today and working there until the year 2046.