Muslims Debate Donald Trump, Immigration Ban and Islamophobia in Republican Party

July 22, 2016


Saba Ahmed

president for the Republican Muslim Coalition and a Donald Trump supporter.

Aisha Samad

CAIR-Cleveland’s board secretary.

For months Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Since he has risen to prominence, civil rights groups have cited increasing attacks and threats against Muslims in America, often against women wearing headscarves. Muslim groups are now campaigning to register a million new voters in a bid to keep Trump out of the White House. But some American Muslims will vote for Trump. According to a survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 11 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are Trump supporters. We’re joined now by two guests. Saba Ahmed is president of the Republican Muslim Coalition and a Donald Trump supporter. She recently met with Trump and his vice-presidential pick, Mike Pence, here at the Republican National Convention. We also speak with Aisha Samad, who is CAIR-Cleveland’s board secretary and a longtime activist in the Muslim community in Cleveland.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We are "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." I’m Amy Goodman. For months, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. On Thursday night, he offered up a slightly different plan.

DONALD TRUMP: Lastly, and very importantly, we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. Anyone who endorses violence, hatred or oppression is not welcome in our country and never, ever will be.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Donald Trump appeared on 60 Minutes with his running mate, Mike Pence. Host Lesley Stahl questioned the pair on the proposed ban.

LESLEY STAHL: Mr. Trump, you have called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Do you agree with that?

GOV. MIKE PENCE: I do. In fact, in Indiana, we suspended the Syrian refugee program in the—in the wake of a terrorist attack. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of this country. And Donald Trump is right to—

LESLEY STAHL: In December—

GOV. MIKE PENCE: —articulate that view.

LESLEY STAHL: In December, you tweeted—and I quote you—"Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."

DONALD TRUMP: So you call it territories, OK? We’re going to do territories. We’re going to not let people come in from Syria that nobody knows who they are. Hillary Clinton wants 550 percent more people to come in than Obama, who doesn’t know what he’s doing. So we’ll call it—

LESLEY STAHL: So you’re changing your position.

DONALD TRUMP: No, I—call it whatever you want. We’ll call it territories. OK?

LESLEY STAHL: So not Muslims.

DONALD TRUMP: The Constitution, there’s nothing like it. But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide as a country, OK? And I’ll tell you this. Call it whatever you want—change territories—but there are territories and terror states and terror nations that we’re not going to allow the people to come into our country. And we’re going to have a thing called extreme vetting. And if people want to come in, they’re going to be extreme vetting—we’re going to have extreme vetting.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump and his running mate, Michael Pence, speaking to 60 Minutes on Sunday. Since Trump has risen to prominence, civil rights groups have cited increasing attacks and threats against Muslims in America, often against women wearing headscarves. Muslim groups are now campaigning to register a million new voters in a bid to keep Trump out of the White House. This is Osama Abu Irshaid of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations.

OSAMA ABU IRSHAID: We want the Muslim community to understand that if you—if you give up your rights voluntarily, no one will come and give them back to you. And there are those forces of hate in this country who would love to rob Muslims of their rights. So, we should fight for our rights. And the only way to fight for your rights is from within the system.

AMY GOODMAN: But some American Muslims will vote for Donald Trump. According to a survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 11 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are Trump supporters.

We’re joined now by two guests. Saba Ahmed is president for the Republican Muslim Coalition. She’s a Donald Trump supporter. She was a guest of the Republican National Committee at the convention. She recently met with Trump and his vice-presidential pick, Mike Pence, here at the Republican convention. And Aisha Samad is with us. She is with CAIR-Cleveland, the board secretary. She’s a nurse and longtime activist in the Muslim community here in Cleveland.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Saba Ahmed. Talk about why you support Donald Trump.

SABA AHMED: Well, I’m interested in Donald Trump’s economic policies. Yesterday, I think we saw a substantive policy side of him. He is—has a business background, and he provided a vision for America that makes us prosperous and makes us a great nation again. I was concerned a little bit about his Muslim ban, but I was so happy that he didn’t even mention it yesterday. We are all concerned about national security, but at the same time, it has to be done in a way that secures our nation and makes us all safe.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think a ban would do that, a ban on Muslims coming into this country?

SABA AHMED: No, I believe a Muslim ban would be unconstitutional and illegal. But religious discrimination is forbidden by many federal laws. But I think a ban on immigration from certain state sponsors of terrorism countries that are on the terror watchlist, we should be mindful of who’s coming in the country, because ISIS is infiltrating a lot of different European countries, and they’re looking to come to the United States, as well. So I think—I agree that we should make our country safe and be mindful of who is coming in the country legally.

AMY GOODMAN: Aisha Samad?

AISHA SAMAD: Well, I think, as we all know, that it’s unconstitutional to ban any religious group. There is no religious test for this country. And I found it very offensive for him to say that we should ban Muslims. The vast majority of the refugees that are fleeing war-torn countries are Muslim people, and there’s a lot of women and children. And as a nation, we’ve always welcomed immigrants. And so, for him to want to ban Muslims was just very offensive to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you—Saba Ahmed, talk about your meeting with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And did you raise the issue of your concern with a ban on all Muslims coming into the United States?

SABA AHMED: Sure. Well, I met with Donald Trump and Mike Pence yesterday, and we got a chance to hear him speak at a lunch that was done for the RNC donors. And it was fascinating, because I think they all want to see America safe. And we talked about how ISIS is hurting Muslims more than anybody else. And a lot of Muslims want to live in peace, and we don’t want to see terrorism, and we want to help solve the problems. I think Muslims should be on the front lines fighting terrorism. And that’s what I think needs to happen within a Trump administration.

I hope—I’ve been very disappointed by Obama administration watching 400,000 Syrians get killed in the last few years, while he brings in a few thousand of them here? I think he should have—he drew red lines that he never enforced, and that caused the problem of ISIS. And so, I just think that, you know, national security should be a priority for the president, and if—our world leadership and the status that America used to be known for has been tarnished. And I want to see a president who is strong in foreign policy and who does what he says he is going to do.


AMY GOODMAN: Aisha Samad.

AISHA SAMAD: With ISIS, I think the instability when we invaded Iraq caused ISIS. I don’t think Syria caused ISIS. I think the whole unstable Middle East caused ISIS. And I don’t think that’s an Obama problem. I think that we all want safety and security in our nation. But we don’t do that by scapegoating one group of people, which would be Muslims or Mexicans or black people. We don’t scapegoat one group of people in order to gain power in this country. And I think the rhetoric that Mr. Trump uses is doing that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments made by the first Muslim member of Congress. That’s Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Muslims who support Trump is like, you know, chickens for Colonel Sanders. You know what I mean? It’s—you know, you think that you’re going to be the chicken who doesn’t get—who doesn’t get fried up? Well, I think you better guess again.

AMY GOODMAN: So that is Keith Ellison, the congressmember from Minnesota. Saba Ahmed, your response?

SABA AHMED: Well, I thought his comments were very offensive to Republican Muslims. I think, you know, as a member of Congress, he ought to know better. I think demeaning others doesn’t serve the purpose of what we’re trying to do. I think it makes a difference when Muslims are involved within the Republican Party. I had a fabulous time at the convention. I got a chance to talk to Newt Gingrich. I talked to Senator Tom Cotton. I got a chance to talk to Congressman Peter King. A lot of names, elected officials that I used to fear and somehow think that they all hate Muslims, when I talked to them in person, it was a whole different experience.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can I ask you something? That’s a very interesting point you raise. You said you thought they sound like they hate Muslims, that—which would suggest that their policies hurt Muslims, but when you met them personally, they were nice people. But what does that say about the Republicans, that their policies hurt Muslims, but you find them as nice individuals?

SABA AHMED: I think—I think they’re all struggling with the problem of radicalism and extremism. So, when I spoke to Newt Gingrich, he talked about—he was really struggling to find terminology which doesn’t offend the vast majority of Muslims. And we had a very open discussion about Sharia and how Muslims need to be involved with the discussions and how they really don’t know what the right solutions are. I think all of us are struggling with that. And I think involving Muslim Americans and bringing them to the policy tables is the right solution. And I would love to be involved with national security discussions, and I hope that more Muslims will step up and get involved with the campaign and policies.

AISHA SAMAD: I think that Islamophobia, creating that fear of Muslims, is gaining them votes from a certain segment of this population in America. It’s fearmongering. And that’s why they say one thing, and then when they have a personal conversation with a Muslim, they sound a different kind of way, because as long as you raise this fear that these Muslims are going to do this, that there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, so this scapegoating and fearmongering in order to gain votes is what they’re doing. Now, I don’t have any problem with Muslims being Republicans. I know a lot of Republican Muslims. But they don’t appreciate being scapegoated. And I think that’s—I listened to Donald Trump talk about—last night about the police and law and order, and—but he didn’t talk about the black people being shot. Only the policemen’s lives mattered. And so, I’m saying that to say all of us have to look at all these words. We don’t use them just to gain votes.

SABA AHMED: I think all lives matter. I think what they were trying—

AISHA SAMAD: But all lives can’t matter until black lives matter, police lives matter, gay lives matter, Mexican lives matter. When that happens, then all lives matter. But because they don’t, we have to draw attention to the lives that are being marginalized. And as a Muslim, I’m offended by Newt Gingrich saying we should give a religious test. I was offended by that.

SABA AHMED: At the same time, I had a great conversation with Newt Gingrich a few times because of the fact I felt like a was the only Muslim who was engaging with him. I think Republicans are really struggling to come to terms with Islam and Muslims. If Muslims are not there to educate them, how are they going to ever learn about our faith? And I do truly believe they have the right intentions, and all lives do matter, not only black lives. White lives, Asian lives—every single human being matters.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a brief exchange between Donald Trump and one of his supporters earlier this month during a town hall in New Hampshire. This is a question and Donald Trump’s answer.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: Just to mix quickly homeland security and jobs. Why aren’t we putting our retiree—our military retirees on that border or in TSA? Get rid of all these "hibijabis" they wear at TSA.


TRUMP SUPPORTER: I’ve seen them myself.

DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, I understand that. Yeah.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: We need the veterans back in there to take it. They’ve fought for this country and defended it. They’ll still do it.



DONALD TRUMP: You know, and we are looking at that. And we are looking at that. We’re looking at a lot of things.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, so that is Donald Trump. He says—when she makes fun of, well, what you are wearing, when you are wearing the hijab, he doesn’t raise an objection. He says, "We’re looking into that."

SABA AHMED: Right. Well, I think, you know, obviously, workplace religious discrimination shouldn’t be allowed. TSA, just like any other agency, is an equal opportunity employer. We all will have worked very hard to fight for our rights to work and live in peace. And I think Donald Trump seeing Muslims within the Republican Party is going to change his views. And the reason I got involved in December was because when I heard of the Muslim ban, I felt like the Republican Party always talks about Islam, radical Islam, radicalism, but there’s hardly any Muslims that are involved that are not radicals, that are not terrorists. I don’t want the whole religion being defined by terrorists. And, for us, we need to, instead of complaining, proactively engage within the Republican Party and make a difference.

AISHA SAMAD: He wants to be our president, but he allowed that lady to make fun of Muslims. And he’s made fun of a disabled man. This speaks to his character, to me. For me, a leader would correct that person. And that’s leadership. And if he’s going to lead all of us, one America, he should have done that. That’s my expectation of a leader.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel that hate crimes have gone up in this community? You’re here from Cleveland.

AISHA SAMAD: Oh, most definitely. People are braver to be offensive in what they say, in pushing past. I’ve had two of my friends—two within this week. At the grocery store, somebody called in a complaint. The wear the niqab, mother and daughter. Someone called in and said that they were having a problem. The other one was profiled at Legacy Village. A swarm of police cars came, because she was taking a picture.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, but, of course, this discussion continues. I want to thank Aisha Samad of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She is Cleveland board secretary. And Saba Ahmed, president for the Republican Muslim Coalition, a Donald Trump supporter.

That does it for the show. A very special thank you to our studio crew here in Cleveland, all the way from one of the nation’s preeminent public access TV stations, Denver Open Media—Anne Theis, Ivy Farr, Michael Fox, Ed Chasteen and Devon Arend [phon.]. Special thanks also to Chuck Scurich, John Hamilton, Denis Moynihan, Elizabeth Press, David Prude, Renée Feltz.

I’ll be doing a report back from the conventions Friday, July 29th, at Provincetown, Massachusetts Town Hall, and Saturday, July 30th, at Martha’s Vineyard Old Whaling Church. Go to for details.

Follow our team for the latest updates from the Republican National Convention and Democratic convention at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now Snapchat. Democracy Now! has joined Snapchat.

And thanks to our team here, to Mike Burke, to all of the folks that made this broadcast possible. I’m Amy Goodman. As well, I want to thank Nermeen Shaikh, Deena Guzder, Carla Wills, Sam Alcoff. Thanks for joining us.

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