SHAFAQNA – When Maysoon Khatib first moved to Murray, Kentucky, with her husband back in 2012, it was a big change.
The 44-year-old grew up in Southern California and was used to seeing people of all different races and religions, but in a town of about 18,000 people she felt like she stood out as a Muslim woman.
Khatib teaches English literature at Murray State University, and since the election of President Trump she’s noticed some of her students have been more politically outspoken.
“I had a student who wore a Trump t-shirt to every single class,” she said. “And another girl came to me in class and said, ‘You know, she’s doing that deliberately.’”
Khatib replied that it was OK. “She was like, ‘how can you be so calm and positive?’ And I was like, ‘because people like you are speaking up for me,’” she said.
Khatib is also the managing editor of MuslimGirl.com, a website dedicated to “raising the place of Muslim women in mainstream society.” The site’s founder, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, and other activists are pushing to make March 27 Muslim Women’s Day.
CBS News spoke with several Muslim women about their lives in America today, and why they are feeling empowered about their identity and religion in recent months.
“Maybe we needed this”
“I never felt more free to speak my mind without feeling that I’m insulting people by accident,” Khatib said, adding that before the election, she was worried about talking too much about being Muslim for fear of isolating herself.
“I feel like I can see more people supporting me, and recognizing individuality,” Khatib said. “We’re all on the same page for the first time. Sometimes I want to write a letter to Trump saying thanks for showing us we need to unified.”
During the Women’s March, an event that saw nationwide protests in January, her small town also held a rally and asked Khatib to speak about her experiences as a Muslim American woman. More than a thousand people from around the town came out to show their support for the rally.
“When the election happened, and the results came in, my heart sank. But I saw right afterwards people coming together… Maybe we needed this change to happen for the resistance,” Khatib said.
“Time to show … what we do”
In Rochester, New York, many of the Muslims you’ll come across are refugees, Iman Abid said.
The 25-year-old is an ACLU organizer who works directly with Rochester community members, especially the refugee community following the announcement of President Trump’s travel ban. Working on the grassroots level, Abid has found herself wanting to redefine what it means to be a Muslim woman.
Nowadays, she feels eager to tell people that she’s Muslim, and that her family is originally from the Middle East.
“A lot of people have a lot of assumptions about Muslims,” Abid said. “When I tell people I’m Muslim they are surprised that I don’t wear a hijab. It’s like an ongoing conversation. I want to show there’s a lot of different looks to Muslim women.”
Since President Trump stepped into the Oval Office, Abid feels like there’s been a sharper focus on her religion, but she sees this moment as an opportunity — and she doesn’t want this moment to slip away for Muslim women
“Muslim women didn’t have to wait for President Trump to speak up, but there’s more focus on us, and that’s why it’s time to show people what we do and who we are,” she said.
“Tiring … but empowering”
Although Zarina Iman was too young to vote in the 2016 election, the 16-year-old has become increasingly politically active.
“One of the good things from this election is I feel there’s a sense of unity,” the New York City resident said.
About a month ago, Iman and a friend organized a vigil at her high school for the South Asian people who were targeted in recent attacks, like the death of a 32-year-old Indian engineer who was killed in an apparently racially-motivated shooting in a crowded Kansas bar.
However, on the day of the vigil, Iman was worried that no one would show up. It was snowing heavily and it was a frigid day.
To her surprise, about 30 people from all different faiths and races came out to show their support. “I’ve never experienced that sort of unity,” Iman said.
That support has amplified her voice as a Muslim woman, she explained.
“It’s been tiring since President Trump took office, but it has also been empowering,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people stepping up and becoming allies to the Muslim community.”
Iman believes that this is just the beginning for young Muslim women and she anticipates that more will start to become active, especially if policy changes like the travel ban continue.
“I think there’s going to be more catering to Muslim women. We are showing that we exist as a group,” she said.