Farhad Khan was traveling on Election Day. It was well past midnight when the Islamic Society of Vermont president returned home to Middlebury. He immediately fell asleep.
His 8-year-old daughter shook him awake the next morning. Khan found her standing staunchly when he opened his eyes, hands on hips.
“He won,” she said, of president-elect Donald Trump. “Now what?”
Khan was hit with despair but not shock. He pulled his daughter in for a hug, assuring her all would be OK.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Khan said. “It was so remarkable, that one little sentence. It just broke me down.”
Khan is one of well more than 3,000 Muslims living in Vermont, according to the ISVT. The vast majority calls Chittenden County home.
Friday prayers are usually busy at the mosque in Colchester, and last week was no different. Dozens of Muslim parishioners removed their shoes at the door, women and men ducking into separate rooms.
Upstairs, a handful of women kneeled on an ornate red and gold carpet and bowed their heads. Lacy white curtains fluttered on the windows as a live feed of the imam’s sermon played on a television screen.
The afternoon prayer marked the first time Imam Islam Hassan, a Colchester resident, had formally addressed his congregation since Election Day.
The sermon turned fiery at times, especially when Hassan directly addressed charges leveled against Muslims throughout the presidential campaign.
“Is it Islam [that] oppresses women?” the imam asked. “Or is it a system that, over the course of 220 years, [has] never allowed a single woman to be president?”
The great majority of the lecture was peaceful, though, as Hassan encouraged listeners to draw closer to God in their community, workplace and home.
“Excel in everything you are doing,” Hassan said. “Practically prove that anything this guy said about you was wrong.”
Some women took the sermon in with a look of steely determination. Another wiped away tears, shoulders shaking with quiet sobs.
“This is talk only; we are not afraid,” Essex resident Faiza Haider said coolly. “We are very proud to be American, and nobody can take that away.”
Others echoed the statement, including many who fled from violent conflict and persecution in their home countries.
“This, to me, is the best country ever,” Edina Kovacevic, of South Burlington, said. “We want this to be our home. It is home, and we made it home. I don’t want to feel any different.”
The women agree their progressive-minded state may contribute to their feelings of security. Vermont was the first state to turn blue for Hillary Clinton, according to the Associated Press.
Khan and Hassan said the mosque has been flooded with support since Election Day. Flower arrangements and fruit baskets dotted the mosque’s entryway, all sent in by community members.
Just during Friday’s sermon, a resident slipped a note of encouragement under the imam’s door. Another left a voicemail on his cell phone, looking for ways to show she would stand in solidarity with Muslims in Vermont.
But Khan and Hassan still see Trump campaign signs planted throughout the state and say it’s tough not to take it personally.
“You have the right to support any candidate you would like to support,” Hassan said of the political props. “This is freedom. But you don’t have the right to oppress the minority.”
When he’s not working at the mosque, Khan runs a dollar store in Middlebury. He’s intimately familiar with the blue-collar working-class population of Vermont and has seen many a Trump supporter walk through his door.
He prompted a few such customers – ones he considers friends – for an explanation.
“They all say they don’t think [Trump] means it, he’s doing it for attention,” Khan said. “[But] do I take his word, or do I not take his word? That’s a real concern we have.”
The men said they worry most about the female members of the religion, many of whom wear a hijab, or headscarf, over their hair. The article quickly identifies them as Muslim, often making them a target for acts of violence when out in public.
Since Election Day, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports more than 300 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation have taken place in the U.S. That includes threats and attacks against Muslims, CNN reported.
Hassan has lived in America for more than 18 years and said he has never been aggressively approached on the street. His wife, who wears a hijab, is frequently bothered.
“There are women who are covered up, and they walk on the street like this,” Hassan said. “Some people take advantage of them. Those are the ones that make us worry.”
A post on the ISVT Facebook page heralded that warning:
“In light of last night’s election results, it is understandable that our community is concerned about a rise in Islamophobic [sic] activities and an uncertain future,” it reads. “Community members, especially our sisters, should be wary of our surroundings … Don’t hesitate to speak up if you happen to be a target of hate.”
It’s important to heed the advice, Khan said, but not to cower in fear.
“We have to be prepared for anything that might happen, but we are not going to be hiding,” Khan said. “We should not panic, but we should watch out for each other.”