STATEN ISLAND, New York – A tense election season, which puts Islam into political debates, is giving American Muslim children nightmares imagining Donald Trump as a president who would kick them out of their country.
“Baba, I had a scary dream, about Donald Trump,” these were the words of 7-year-old Maaria as she hugged her father in the morning of the second presidential debate.
The father, Bilal Elcharfa, asked his daughter what she saw in the nightmare.
“He was so mean to us,” she said. “He had a scary face, like a zombie or something.”
In the dream, Maaria later said, Trump came to the home of every Muslim family in the country and put each one in jail.
“Don’t worry,” he told his daughter, comforting her. “He’s just talk.”
However, the dream unsettled Elcharfa himself, who and his wife had fled war in their native Lebanon in the hopes of raising a family in the United States,, in peace and safety.
Elcharfa, 52-year-old taxi driver, has dealt with his own share of anti-Muslim sentiment after 9/11 and wished he could save his innocent young children from facing the same situation.
“I’m trying to let my kids live in peace,” he said. “I don’t want them to worry.”
The pressures are intense on their neighborhood in Staten Island, a Republican stronghold and New York City’s whitest borough.
A few blocks from the Elcharfa home in the South Beach neighborhood, a large flag for Trump’s campaign flaps in the wind, and a Trump sign is prominent in a yard around the corner.
The political rhetoric was deeply reflected in schools, where Muslim children were getting a difficult time.
Young Maaria and Zaynub, were getting some blows, being called terrorists or told that Trump will kick them out of America.
One day, the Elcharfas’ 9-year-old, Zaynub, was sitting on the carpet in her third-grade classroom when two boys said to her, “If Donald Trump becomes president, he’s going to kick you out of the country.”
That night, frightened, she asked her mother about it. “Are we going to get kicked out? Where are we going to go?”
Her mother, Nayla Elhamoui, assured her that no president could do that. “That will never affect us,” she told her daughter. “We belong here.”
She called the school’s parent coordinator the next day. The principal met with the students and instructed them to apologize to Zaynub.
Maaria said that if Trump became president, “I’m going to stay in my room forever.”
“They cannot defend themselves,” Elcharfa said about his young daughters.
“They’re still young.”
Amid rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, many of the family’s Muslim friends have pulled their children out of public school and put them in private Islamic schools.
Somaia Saie is one of Muslim parents who made that decision more than a year ago for her youngest children, ages 9 and 11, because she felt it was the “only way to keep the kids in a safe environment.”
“I have no clue how we can raise children like this,” she said.
“As grown-ups, we can take it. With children, it’s another story.”
Elcharfa expressed frustration at what his family’s life had become. He thought he had left behind conflicts over religion in Lebanon, where sectarian tensions cast a long shadow.
“I came here and found the same things following me,” he said.