“Muslim Syracuse residents reflect on returning to a country more divided after taking the Hajj to Mecca”

After taking the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, Syracuse Muslims describe how they feel about the United States’ current political climate and the American Dream.

New house articleAmina Foco was standing at a cashier’s desk in a Saudi Arabian mall when the gates of the store came falling down suddenly. The strangers to her left and right stopped what they were doing and everyone in the mall began to form lines.
“So many people who are supposed to fit that bill of what an American is are being crossed off.”
Amina Foco

The call for prayer had just gone off during Foco’s trip to the mall in between the prayers and activities scheduled during her pilgrimage to Mecca, which Muslims call the Hajj.

“It’s so much easier being Muslim over there than it is over here,” said Foco about the unspoken commitment to prayer in Saudi Arabia and the lack thereof in the United States.

A Pew Research study done in July found that 89 percent of U.S. Muslims said they were proud to be American and proud to be Muslim—while 70 percent said they still believed in the American dream despite their current place in society under President Trump’s administration.

Foco is one of 16,000 Muslim Americans to take the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca this past month and to return to a country further divided. For some hajjis returning to America and catching up on Trump’s most recent actions—from his decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to the travel ban reinforcement—the American dream may seem less attainable.

Anel Hirkic immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was seven years old after winning a lottery that allowed his family to leave their genocide-ridden home of Bosnia. He just returned from the Hajj and said he is hopeful that the American dream still lives on.

“We came here in 2001 chasing the American dream, and I think we’re well on our way there,” said Anel Hirkic, “We’re always chasing. That’s why it’s called a dream.”

People that have taken the hajj often struggle to find the right words to describe their experience. As one of the five pillars of Islam, the religious trip to the holy city of Mecca is expected of every Muslim once in their lifetime provided they can afford it and are in good health. The trip signifies the cleansing of one’s sins and represents rebirth as a new man or woman.

Hirkic said performing the hajj, surrounded by strangers speaking over 160 different languages has given him patience, perseverance, and acceptance—all of which he has brought back with him to the United States.

The 22-year-old Liverpool resident said he has no doubts about the United States’s ability to become more accepting. Hirkic said the hajj is an equalizer. He said that there is no distinction between black and white, rich or poor—and that he believes the United States has and can operate with the same beliefs.

This leveling that occurs on the hajj is why Esmir Omerovic, Foco’s husband, said he remains positive about the United States despite recent discriminatory decisions. Both Foco and Omerovic immigrated to the United States—Foco from Canada and Omerovic from Bosnia.

“I still think there is so much good,” said Omerovic. “We can’t let one time period right now define everything. I’d rather be here than anywhere else.”

Foco agreed that there is plenty to be grateful for in America but said she is worried about some things.

“The definition of what an American is is narrowing every day,” said Foco. “So many people who are supposed to fit that bill of what an American is are being crossed off… But there are so many other places that have it worse.”

Imam Mohamed Elfiki, of the Islamic Society of Central New York, encourages his congregation to think of the country in similar terms.

“I see what is going on around here as a blessing in disguise,” said Elfiki, praising the opportunity that has presented itself for many different kinds of people to work together and stand up for what they believe in. Elfiki mentioned his congregation’s participation in interfaith dialogues around Syracuse and several of his Muslim brothers and sisters volunteering to help those in Texas.

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*EDITOR NOTE: Text is an excerpt from an article written by Alexis Jones published on the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University online department news