Pakistani-American student Saqib Javed made headlines when he spoke out against Donald Trump. Although he didn’t have any big plans to disrupt Donald Trump’s campaign, he knew he wanted to say something to the conservative candidate running for US President whose racist remarks against Muslims and other minorities have stirred controversy since the beginning of elections. And when he heard Trump was coming to his city of Warren, Michigan, he decided to attend the rally and challenge Trump’s racist fear-mongering.
“The original plan was to go with a couple of people,” says Javed, the 22-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants. “But the rally was early in the morning. I don’t know why they didn’t come or what really happened, but I was alone,” he says.
Javed attended the event in a gold-embroidered black sherwani. “The reason I wore this outfit was to show Trump this is not just ‘white America’. There’s a lot of diversity in America, racially and ethnically, and they are just as important as the majority,” he explains. The choice of attire – formal by Pakistani standards and outlandish by American standards – impressed people at the rally, making them believe Javed was a celebrity supporting Trump. This landed him a spot in the front row. “I was five feet away from Trump,” says Javed.
Javed heard Trump’s speech for a full 40 minutes before deciding to interrupt. In a popular footage of the incident that went viral in March, Javed, clad in a sherwani and stylish sunglasses, is seen shouting “Not all Mexicans are rapists! Not all Muslims are terrorists!” before being dragged out of the rally.
Committed to the cause
The incident drew attention from both American and Pakistani media, making Javed famous overnight. But Javed has been politically active for years. When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza in 2014, killing over 2,000 Palestinians, Javed was protesting on the frontlines outside the White House. “One of the protestors got arrested for climbing up on the pole and putting up a Palestinian flag,” recalls Javed. “I saw them putting him in the car and I ran to the front and started screaming at the officers and they pushed me down,” he adds.
Javed stands up for minorities because of his own experience of being bullied in high school. The discrimination he faced made him passionate about advocating for the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity and religion. “In high school, I was very close to my faith and I kept my religious values,” he recollects. “I didn’t have a girlfriend. I wouldn’t shake hands with the opposite sex. I wouldn’t do certain things because of religious reasons and because of this I got bullied a lot.” Growing up, Javed was called “Osama bin Laden” and taunted whenever a terrorist attack took place, but this only made him stronger.
“Bullying didn’t faze me. I really didn’t care what people said or thought,” says Javed. “When I was in 11th and 12th grades, my popularity increased because of this. People looked at me in a different way. They said, ‘this kid is not going to change’.” And during his final year, many were convinced Javed will most likely end up changing the world by standing firm in his beliefs.
Currently, Javed studies criminal justice at Wayne State University, where he is an active member of the Muslim Student Association and Islamic Society of AhlulBayt. “We work together to fight Islamophobia and educate people about it,” he says. “[We] educate people about Islam, not to convert them, but just so they know that Islam is a religion of peace.”
In the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shooting in 2015, when three young Muslim-Americans were shot dead, Javed organised an event to spread awareness about Islam, handing out roses and pamphlets of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) sayings. “I am here to stand against what’s wrong and to educate people,” he insists, adding that his aim is encourage respect for all belief systems.
One rule for all
Javed’s peace activism comes at a crucial time in the US and Pakistan both. While hate crimes and racism have always plagued America, Trump’s racist rhetoric has contributed to the rising fascist climate in the US. After the Chapel Hill shooting, three black Muslim-American men were shot dead in Indiana, a Latino man was assaulted in Boston, a Moroccan-Muslim was attacked in Philadelphia, and nine people were killed in a mass shooting of a black church in 2015. Similarly, in Pakistan sectarian attacks and discrimination against religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Shias and Ahmadis, is on the rise.
“Western media hides our genocide, making it seem as if ISIS is the main representation of Islam,” Javed says. “Many American don’t know or are ignorant to the fact that a lot of Muslims are being killed [by terrorists],” he adds. According to Javed, Trump ignores the fact that many of the refugees are victims of ISIS. “It’s frustrating to see that the people we are not allowing in this country are the same people being killed by ISIS,” he laments.
Javed believes Muslims are obligated to ally with the oppressed, regardless of their background. “If we’re going to condemn one thing, we have to condemn everything else that’s wrong,” he urges. “I’m doing this for humanity; I’m not just doing this for my people.”
When Javed travelled to Chicago to attend another Trump rally, he discovered he didn’t have to disrupt Trump’s speech because he never showed up. Trump was forced to cancel his speech in Chicago after Black, Latino and Muslim activists spent days organising to shut down his rally. While Javed is only one individual, his activism reflects the solidarity that’s gripping young people in America today.
Iman Sultan is a Pakistani-American freelance journalist and activist based in Philadelphia. She studies political science and journalism at Temple University.