On the June day the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, a group of Muslim and Latinx activists banded together for a joint protest. In Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square, a lineup of speakers from Muslim, Jewish, and Latin-American organizations spoke before a crowd not only to condemn the court’s ruling, but also to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in which government agents have separated children from their parents as a coercion tactic at the U.S.-Mexico border. Speakers explained the shared xenophobic origins of both the travel ban and family separation, and the policies’ impacts on the lives of individuals. Andrea Garcia, a Latina Muslim woman and an American citizen, described her separation from her husband, whom she met after immigrating to the U.S. from Colombia. He went to work in Qatar, thinking his stay would be temporary, but now he is unable to return to the States because he has a Syrian passport. She does not know when she will see him again. “We need people to understand that we don’t pose a threat,” she told me after the march had ended. “We’re just trying to see our loved ones and be with our families.”
The protest was typical of demonstrations since the 2016 election: rapidly organized and publicized on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, fiercely critical of Trump’s racism and cruelty, and overflowing with signs, mass-printed and hastily scrawled. But it differed from other such protests in one important way: it prominently featured religion. Together, the speakers and marchers demonstrated how some liberals are incorporating faith into activism as they step up to defend causes traditionally claimed by conservatives: family values and religious freedom.
Several speeches at the protest began with “as-salaam aleikum”: “peace be upon you.” In most Arab countries, this isn’t the standard greeting; there are plenty of popular ways to say “hello” that have no religious significance. “As-salaam aleikum,” on the other hand, is the formal religious greeting that the Prophet Muhammad taught his followers. The speakers who used it chose to make their faith as conspicuous as possible. The whole crowd responded: “wa aleikum as-salaam” (“and peace be upon you”).
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