This election has been like no other. The sheer ugliness of the rhetoric spewed by Donald J. Trump in this campaign is enough to turn even a stomach of steel. Never in my wildest dreams did I think there would be a presidential candidate who would mainstream the worst demons of our nature and society. Not in 2016. Never did I think there would be a time when a candidate for president would suggest banning all Muslims from entering our country. Not in 2016. Never did I think that I would see an African-American church defiled by the words “Vote Trump“ after being scorched by fire. Not in 2016.
Unfortunately, however, we have seen all these things and more in 2016. This is because the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for president of the United States has been nothing short of a fitna. It has been a fitna for America in general and American Muslims in particular.
In classical Arabic, the word “fitna” — as found in Lane’s classical Arabic Lexicon — means “a burning with fire” and “the melting of gold and of silver to separate, or distinguish, the bad from the good.” This certainly applies to the candidacy of Donald Trump. His rhetoric, his insults, his inciting the very worst of our nature has brought out the worst of our society.
His supporters feel comfortable to openly espouse anti-Semitism and blatant racism. The official newspaper of the KKK has endorsed his candidacy, for God’s sake (although his campaign has disavowed this support). What’s even more stunning: an African-American supporter of Donald Trump was expelled from one of his rallies in North Carolina and called a “thug” by Trump himself.
Many of his supporters are drawn to him because he “tells it like it is” and is not “politically correct.” Many of them have said that Trump says out loud what they feel inside. While this is indeed frightening, it is a fitna because it has brought out into the open the ugly side of our society and exposed it for all to see.
Coming out of the original meaning of “burning with fire,” a very common translation of the word “fitna” is trial or tribulation. Indeed, this is how “fitna” is used in multiple instances in the Quran. This is the fitnaof Donald Trump for the American Muslim community. He is a test for American Muslims: How will they respond to his candidacy?
How will the American Muslim community respond to the blatant racism and hatred directed toward it by Trump and his supporters? How will the American Muslim community respond to the incitement against it for craven political gain? Will it cower in fear and retreat into its homes and mosques? Or will it respond to the hate with good, with love, and — most importantly — with political activism and near total turnout in the election?
As bad as the election has been for both America and the American Muslim community, there is a silver lining. There is good that will, God willing, come of out of all the bad we have seen for so long. And it circles back to the word “fitna.”
When gold or silver goes through fitna, the impurities come out, and what is left is clean and pure. While I am not suggesting, even for a tiny moment, that we “get rid of the impurities” of our society, I am suggesting that our country — when this election is over — will come out much more beautiful, much more brilliant, much more amazing. Moreover, no matter what the result of the election, we need to start our healing now because, at the end of the day, we are all one American family.
There is also a silver lining for the American Muslim community. Through the fitna, or test of the Trump candidacy, the American Muslim community will also come out much stronger, much more politically active, and — God willing — more a part of the fabric of this society than it already is. Moreover, it is my hope and prayer that long-lasting alliances can be forged between the American Muslim and other communities, as a result of this election, that can work for the common good of our country.
This election has been unprecedented in so many ways, and the fitna of the candidacy of Donald Trump has tested the true mettle of our country and our people. But if I know anything about our people, I know that they are fundamentally good. And this fitna will only make our country and her people even greater than it already is.