Four Muslim immigrants and refugees from Portland and Lewiston shared concerns as well as messages of hope about living in Maine under President Trump’s administration at a panel discussion on Tuesday. Over 70 people crowded into Howell House to hear them speak. 

Opinions among the panelists were divided, with some more optimistic than others. 

“I believe that things are OK,” said Abdullahi Ahmed, assistant principal at Deering High School in Portland. “I think that this is a time when people—with this crisis—will come together and move forward, and I think that good things will come out of this.” 

Pious Ali, Portland City Council member and the first African-born Muslim to hold elected office in Maine, spoke about how Islam has never been fully accepted in the United States despite its long-standing history in the country. However, he agreed that there was reason to stay positive, pointing to the increase nationwide in Muslims who ran for office in 2016, especially compared to the number who ran when he was elected to the Portland Board of Education in 2013.

Other panelists did not fully share Ahmed and Ali’s optimistic outlooks. Writer and Muslim scholar Reza Jalali addressed the possibility of Muslims being fingerprinted, documented or sent to camps in the months to come. 

“Please don’t blame us for being frightened,” said Jalali. “At times I find myself pleading and asking my students and others that if I should be registered, would you also stand up with me and demand to be registered?” 

Panelists also discussed their personal experiences with protesting and gave advice on mobilizing against Trump. Fatuma Hussein, founder of United Somali Woman of Maine, recalled the racism that she and other Somalis encountered when they first moved to Lewiston. 

Reflecting on her own experiences protesting against Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald and Maine Governor Paul LePage, Hussein addressed the need for Americans to be allies with the Muslim community. 

“We really have to do a lot of work and create a foundation that’s not jeopardized by fear,” said Hussein. “In American culture, many people are against what they see, but you don’t see them rise and speak up. We need to break that silence and speak up for the vulnerable.” 

The event was organized by the Muslim Student Association and moderated by Salim Salim ’20 and Mohamed Nur ’19—both of whom come from immigrant families living in Maine. Nur decided to organize the event to humanize the discussion about refugees and immigrants in the current political climate. 

“I wanted to have something on campus to talk about Muslim refugees and immigrants in Maine,” Nur said. “I think that when we think of immigrants and refugees, they’re nameless, faceless, and that really isn’t true.”

Attendees said the event allowed them to better understand the experience of being Muslim in Maine as well as how to be a better ally to the immigrant and refugee communities. 

“Before [the panel] I had been a general ally to the cause, but I hadn’t figured out [how] to channel that energy and direct it to something specific,” said Rayne Stone ’18. “I think the panelists gave me an idea of how to use my privilege to get involved in these organizations and the political process.” 

Eskedar Girmash ’20 echoed this sentiment. 

“We talk about issues on campus, but we never really go out and push ourselves to change these things, and I think that’s something we should strive to do,” said Girmash.