DEARBORN — The night started out upbeat. People ate, chatted, and packed the annex room at the Arab American Museum, settling in for what many thought was a night of victory for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president.
But slowly, as each state was called increasingly for Donald Trump — the candidate that said he would ban all Muslims entering the country and once said “I think Islam hates us” — the room grew more anxious.
Then, Florida went red, people began to realize the likely outcome of the election, and Muslim Americans at the watch party began using the words "uncomfortable," "worried," and "hope," to describe their thoughts.
Many people, like Kamal AlSawafy, told BuzzFeed News that they learned a lot about their fellow countrymen and women. "This race shows there's a lot of challenges ahead if he's the president," said Kamal AlSawafy.
Others were more direct.
“I am frightened, I am petrified,” Saad Akhmad told BuzzFeed News.
Dearborn, a city just outside Detroit, is home to an estimated 40,000 Arab-Americans — many of them Muslims — but a population that also includes a sizable Christian population from the Middle East.
Muslims around the country, just as in Dearborn, mobilized as a voting force after Trump’s comments about Islam and many Muslim-majority countries.
One study estimated that 86% of Muslim Americans that were registered to vote, planned to vote. But Muslim Americans only account for an estimated 1–2% of the population. Their influence at polling places in key battleground states were not enough to bring Clinton to the White House.
Later in the night at the event, a man took the mic, stressed that the watch party is nonpartisan, and that a prayer from the Qur'an would be said for this nation, and for the goodness of mankind.
At the prayer’s conclusion, people clapped. Some left, but others stayed, hoping to see the finality of the election.
“Seeing how close this election is, it’s kind of sad to see everything that’s going on, with someone who has spewed so much hate a rhetoric towards the Muslim community, basically every community of color, to see that people would back someone who would do and say that,” said Sumaiya Ahmed, the communications director for the Michigan Muslim Community Council.
But despite this, many people who spoke with BuzzFeed News, including Ahmed, said they would live life as they always have — as proud Americans, and proud Muslim Americans.
“This is my home. I was born and raised here. This is my America. This is my world. I will continue to let people know that I’m Muslim, I’m of half Indian descent, and nothing is going to change that for me,” Ahmed said.
The chairperson of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, Dr. Muzammil Ahmed, took an upbeat view of the day. He reminded the audience that Abdullah Hammoud, a 26-year-old Lebanese-American who was born and raised in Dearborn, won a state House seat in Michigan. He reminded the audience that tonight, Ilhan Omar made history, winning a Minnesota House seat, making her the first Somali-American to serve in such a position in the nation.
“But all of us have our work cut out for us to make Michigan blue next time around,” Ahmed also warned the crowd.
“Obviously we thought that Islamophobia, racism, bigotry, sexism, misogyny, you know, all these -isms, were rhetoric that were only going to resonate with a fringe part of the country,” Khaled Beydoun, a law professor and critical race theorist at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, said on stage at the tail end of the night.
“But that clearly isn’t the case. I think this election vividly demonstrates that there is, not only a silent fringe, but a very sizable majority of this country that still embraces, full-fledged, these forms of hatred that are so entrenched in this country.”
Beydoun then urged the Muslim Americans in the room to stop thinking of their identities in “narrow terms,” such as Muslim Americans and Arab Americans because, “our numbers are just not enough.”
Beydoun implored the Muslims in the room to partner with other minorities because it was clear, to him, that Muslim Americans as a solitary voting bloc, cannot sway races in any meaningful way.
“Islamophobia is a winning message. It won resoundingly tonight. Racism won resoundingly tonight. Racism, sexism, all won resoundingly tonight,” Beydoun said.