Election night was complicated for Azra Baig.
She’s a school board member in suburban South Brunswick, N.J. Baig was running for reelection this fall. She had just put out yard signs with her name on them when a friend from her mosque called.
“Someone wrote ‘ISIS sympathizer’ on the sign,” Baig says.
That caught Baig by surprise. She’s the only Muslim on the school board. But there’s a sizable Muslim population in South Brunswick and the surrounding towns. And this didn’t just happen once or twice.
“The next day, we found another sign that was vandalized,” Baig says. “So multiple times, basically the same signs were vandalized. Miss ISIS. Anti-American. Raghead.”
Baig told the police. But otherwise, she kept quiet until after the election. She didn’t want to encourage copycats. And Baig says she didn’t want to win reelection to her school board seat because of what she calls a ‘sympathy vote.’
“That’s not me,” says Baig. “I put in a lot of hard work over the years, and I wanted to get it on my own merit.”
Baig won reelection to the school board. But her elation didn’t last long. “When they announced that Donald Trump [as the] president-elect, I started crying,” she says. “I was in shock.”
Since Trump’s election, there’s been an increase in the number of hate crimes reported against immigrants and minorities, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and others. Muslim-Americans in particular are on edge. They haven’t forgotten that Trump talked during the campaign about banning all Muslims from coming into the country. And his election is prompting the members of Baig’s mosque, the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, to think about their place in the community, and the country.
“I was just left with the feeling that we have elected hate as a society, and that’s not who we are,” says Shahnaz Naeem, who was picking up her children from the Noor-Ul-Iman School, which is run by the mosque. She says it was hard explaining the election to them.
“My little five year old, like every day she would ask me, who are you voting for? Because she wanted to make sure I was voting for the right person,” says Naeem. “So it was tough telling them what happened. But we talked about it. And they didn’t fall apart. I feel like there’s a lot of resilience in our kids. And that’s what we need in them, to help our country move forward, instead of backwards.”
In Sunday’s interview with 60 Minutes, President-elect Trump discouraged his followers from attacking Muslims and other minorities. And not everyone at this mosque thinks Trump’s election will trigger a rise in Islamophobia.
“Whether we had Trump, or didn’t have Trump, the people’s feelings were going to be the same,” says Mazen Oudeh, who was picking up his son Yusuf after school. “Yeah, he’s not saying very nice things about Muslims. And I’ve just told Yusuf that these things are not true. That we’re gonna be kicked out of the country. These things are not gonna happen.”
The Islamic Society of Central Jersey was founded more than 40 years ago. It’s in the process of expanding the mosque building it has since outgrown.
“It’s our country. We live here. We expect our grand kids all to grow up over here,” says mosque member Babar Saeed. He says Trump’s election might turn out to be a good thing for Muslim-Americans.
“There is racism, bigotry, in some part of the country,” says Saeed. “So it’s out there, and we have to deal with it.”
That echoes something the mosque’s president Arif Patel said, based on a verse from the Quran.
“You know, we might not know what’s good for us in what we think is a bad situation,” says Patel. “And we might not know what’s bad for us in what we perceive to be a good situation, right? Only God knows.”
God has a plan, says Patel. Even if it’s not easy to see right now.