When President Biden was elected in 2020, Muslim Americans hoped to see a change in representation in government.
At the time, hate crimes against Muslims were on the rise, and anti-Islamic rhetoric was surging, which critics attribute, in part, to former President Trump.
The former president took a hardline stance on Muslims, signing an executive order in 2017 banning foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries and sending shockwaves throughout the Muslim American community.
But almost two years into the Biden administration, Muslims in the U.S. are split on the accomplishments — and failures — of the administration’s efforts to represent the community.
Since his inauguration, President Biden has attempted to include Muslims in his government, appointing several Muslim Americans to high-profile public offices.
The list includes: Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission; Sameera Fazil, National Economic Council Deputy Director; Reema Dodin, White House Office of Legislative Affairs Deputy Director; and Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.
In addition, Biden’s first policies after being sworn in was to reverse the controversial “Muslim ban,” condemning the policy of his predecessor as a “stain on our national conscience.”
“Beyond contravening our values, these Executive Orders and Proclamations have undermined our national security. They have jeopardized our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over,” he said at the time.
But there are no Muslim Americans serving in the president’s Cabinet, and experts say that the community is still dealing with the consequences of the former administration’s policies.
Robert McCaw, director of government affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, told The Hill that as a candidate “Trump was able to tap into a real political undercurrent of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment that was rising in America, which resulted in the Muslim ban.”
“The ban itself lit a fire under the Muslim community to politically mobilize: to register to vote and make our voices heard in Congress,” he added.
This mobilization proliferated. A recent CAIR poll found that more than 91 percent of registered Muslim Americans respondents are likely to vote in the upcoming midterms.
While Biden’s reversal of the ban was commended by advocates, CAIR added that both the Biden administration and Congress still need to “take action to repair the damage done” to everyone impacted by the ban.
“On day one, the president overturned the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, which was deeply appreciated by the Muslim community, but then he left all those Diversity Visa recipients who lost their chance at the American dream in a lurch,” said McCaw.
International affairs remain a top concern for many in the U.S. Muslim community, McCaw added.
The CAIR poll showed the top five most important Muslim-related foreign policy issues included the Israel-Palestine conflict, Chinese treatment of Uyghur Muslims, oppression of Muslims in India, repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and starvation in Afghanistan.
“Despite multiple requests from the Muslim community and Congress to use his executive powers to create the special envoy position at the State Department to combat and monitor Islamophobia — especially for places like China, India, Burma and France — the President has not acted, even though House Democrats last December passed a bill designed to create such a position, which had the backing of key senators like Cory Booker, Ben Cardin and Bernie Sanders,” said McCaw.
One of the biggest criticisms American Muslim community has of the administration is its handling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The issue received renewed attention following the death of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed covering Israeli military raids on the West Bank. The State Department issued a statement in early July saying that a review of investigations conducted by both the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Palestinian Authority was inconclusive.
This week, the IDF said that Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli fire, according to CNN.
Some Muslim Americans found Biden’s response disappointing.
According to McCaw, the Biden administration’s public response to Abu Akleh’s death were “disturbing”.
Others believe that Biden’s track record when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has never wavered.
“He has a very long history of being very pro-Israel,” said Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“He’s a strong defender of weapons sales and what they call a qualitative military edge, which is the promise the US has made to Israel to make sure that it will always be able to defeat any local rivals or combination of rivals in the Middle East, including other U.S. allies. So, there is as promised to keep the Israelis better armed than anybody else. He’s for that. And he’s sort of very friendly with the Israeli center right.”
The Hill has reached out for comment from the White House on this criticism.
But Ibish added that Biden is a firm supporter of a two-state solution, noting that the current president’s approach to the issue isn’t all that different from his predecessors dating back to former President Reagan.
And while Muslims prefer Biden to Trump, his approval rating remains at 28 percent within the community, according to the CAIR poll.
Executive director of the Muslim Justice League Fatema Ahmad said much of that has to do with Biden’s domestic policies.
Ahmad was in high school when the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks occurred. But she endured “vehement” racism in her community long before then — and it only increased after the attacks.
But now she’s concerned about attacks from what she says is an unjust system as well.
“I’m much more worried about the FBI surveilling me day to day than the individual or interpersonal level of violence,” said Ahmad.
Her organization works to dismantle the Countering Violent Extremism task force, which Biden vowed to end while on the campaign trail.
“In the past five to seven years many Muslim folks around the country realized that this was really dangerous,” she explained. “It would lead to racial and religious profiling and actually chill access to social services.”
Ahmad said that there has been no substantive change in the way that the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement organizations deal with Muslim Americans on a day-to-day basis.
“Anytime folks go to the airport, they just expect to be harassed,” she said. “They expect to be interrogated. It’s not just the invasive pat downs. People get pulled aside by CBP into a room. They’re questioned on their faith and their politics.”
These instances have led to increased feelings of distrust toward government within the Muslim American community, she said, adding that this close to midterms, both Biden and his party need to step up their messaging to the community to win their votes.
“[Democrats] need to take a serious look at what the FBI has been doing, what has the Department of Homeland Security and all of its offices been doing, and reflect on that,” Ahmad said. “There’s a pretty big disconnect to then ask us to engage with those agencies on civil rights issues.”
McCaw said that Democrats need to remember that a large population of Muslim Americans cast their ballots in swing states in 2020, helping them secure the White House.
Now, he said, they need to give back.
“Don’t engage us only during election season,” McCaw said. “Show up after you’re elected to your local mosque. Get to know its congregants and leaders and what they’re concerned about locally and nationally.”
But Abdullah Hammoud (D), the first Muslim mayor of Dearborn, Mich., told The Hill that the Muslim American community in his city sees the current administration’s policies as favorable.
“Especially as a president who came in right in the midst of a pandemic, to roll out the resources that he has. There’s been many successes that Biden can hold his head on. I firmly believe it. And I think people see it. I just think it’s a difficult time right now because inflation is still at a record high, although unemployment is coming down, and people are still struggling,” he said.
However, Hammoud said it’s still too early to give a firm assessment on the Biden administration’s performance thus far.
“I think collectively amongst minorities, there’s always gonna be this demand where we believe those in the elected office are falling short because it’s been decades, if not centuries, of inequities that have been perpetuated by every single person in office that has to be addressed,” Hammoud added.
“So I think we’ll always be left longing for more regardless of which president is in office, that’s just the reality,” Hammoud said.