On January 27, just one week into his first term, President Trump signed an executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Though the ban was blocked by multiple court decisions, Trump attempted to implement similar bans two more times—including one in March and another just last week. None of his attempts have worked; a district court judge in Hawaii blocked the most recent version on October 17, just a day before restrictions were set to take effect.
Young Muslim Americans are hardly taking these targeted acts sitting down. On Wednesday, the members of Advocates for Youth’s Muslim Youth Leadership Council launched the #MuslimAnd campaign, which encouraged Americans all over the country to storm social media with pictures and messages that emphasize the ways in which being Muslim is a vital part of their complex identities.
Nazra Amin, a student at George Washington University and member of the Muslim Youth Leadership Council, told MTV News about the campaign and how young Muslim Americans will continue to push back against discrimination.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
MTV News: What has your experience being part of the Muslim Youth Leadership Council been like?
Nazra Amin: This council addresses Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate, racism and homophobia within Muslim communities, and sexual health. The Muslim Youth Leadership Council started with a retreat, where we created a space where all of our identities could intersect. I’m an activist and very outspoken about sexual health and reproductive rights, but my family and community have always questioned that because they believe in not having sex until marriage. A lot of people think that being Muslim and interested in reproductive rights and sexual health doesn’t work.
I had rarely encountered any gay or queer Muslims before [joining the council], but had never understood why being queer and Muslim was so looked down upon. As an ally, I had to struggle with that in my community. For a really long time I didn’t identify with [Islam] because I felt that if it didn’t accept these people then I didn’t want to accept this faith.
A lot of other council members are queer identifying and many of them felt like they weren’t welcome in their communities. For example, in queer spaces, Muslim people often can’t identify as openly Muslim because of Islamophobia, but in Muslim spaces, queer people often feel [they can't identify as openly queer] because of homophobia within those spaces. This retreat was meant to create a space where we could present all of our identities and be fine. I learned through the council that having these identities aren’t contradictory. They can co-exist. That helped me find my way back to the religion I grew up with.
MTV News: How is the Muslim Youth Leadership Council addressing this?
Nazra Amin: We recently launched the #MuslimAnd campaign, which tries to create a space where having those intersections of identity is acceptable. I identified as #MuslimAnd a feminist. A friend was #MuslimAnd woke.
A lot of people think Muslims are one dimensional. The idea of this campaign is to get across the message that you can be Muslim and anything you want to be. Having multiple identities isn’t contradictory nor is it inherently wrong. It’s a good way to bring humanity back to a community that has been demonized for so long.
MTV News: The Muslim community seems to have been especially demonized by Trump’s recent attempts to pass a travel ban. What has that been like for you and the Muslim community?
Having a President who outwardly wants to ban Muslim people from entering is a lot to process. The rhetoric Donald Trump uses and the way he speaks about Muslims as if they’re not part of this community, as if they’re not citizens, is really, really hard. I live in D.C. and I was at the White House when Trump was elected. The next day I was walking around and kept thinking, "How could all of these people be against who I am?"
I’m from Pakistan so it hasn’t affected me directly — Pakistan wasn’t on the list — but it has made travel a lot more difficult. My Dad was going to go to Pakistan to visit his sick mother, but he decided it wasn’t worth it because he was worried something would happen and he wouldn’t get back into the U.S. He’s a citizen. I moved here when I was four. But he still has that fear that things could go wrong and he wouldn’t be allowed back into the country. We’ve called this place home for so long, but this place isn’t accepting us — how are we supposed to navigate this?
One girl on the Muslim Youth Leadership Council is an international student from Pakistan and her lawyer told her she can’t go home for the next few years because she won’t be let back into the country. She hasn’t been able to see her family in months. Even if the ban hasn’t been put in place, it’s still preventing people from doing things like seeing their families.
This campaign was launched in retaliation to the Muslim Ban. The most recent Muslim Ban was scheduled to take effect on October 18, so our campaign launched on that day.
MTV News: How do you think #MuslimAnd fits into and counters this political climate?
Nazra Amin: We wanted to show people that we belong here, we’re not some outside, opposing threat. Having spaces like this is super important so Muslim people can know that there are allies saying this isn’t right -- that other people hear us and are there for us. In the #MuslimAnd campaign, there was an option for people who weren’t necessarily Muslim but stood in solidarity with us. So some people said things like, ‘As an immigrant, I stand with Muslims.’
So, yes, this administration is awful and exclusionary to so many minority groups, but at the same time it brings us together in a way. It was really cool to see that people were so excited to be a part of #MuslimAnd so excited to show their support.
MTV News: How do you think #MuslimAnd countered other misconceptions about Muslim Americans?
Nazra Amin: Explaining that you can be LGBTQ and part of the Muslim community was a big [misconception we countered]. A lot of people think Islam is homophobic, but it isn’t. Another big one was Muslims can’t be sexually active — if you have sex you can’t be Muslim. Muslim youth do have sex, and they should do it safely — that’s why we focus on it in the Muslim Youth Leadership Council.
The problem is that because there are so many taboos surrounding these issues are not being addressed. Because our community is so targeted by outside people — by our administration, by a lot of people in our country — we feel like it’s very hard to critique ourselves from the inside because we’re constantly on the defensive.
How can young people get involved and work to combat Islamophobia?
Nazra Amin: If people are interested in combatting Islamophobia, a really big thing is to educate yourselves. Don’t leave it up to your Muslim friends to have to explain that not all Muslims are terrorists. You should do that research on your own because it can be exhausting for minority groups to have to justify and validate their existence.