It was a peculiar sight: At the Republican National Convention, Sajid Tarar, the founder of Muslims for Trump, strode onto the stage and delivered the benediction, leading the delegates in prayer and even quoting the Prophet Muhammad. It could have been a practical joke, but it wasn’t. Donald Trump has a fervent supporter in Tarar, whose organization is trying to convince some of America’s 3.3 million Muslims to throw their support behind the Republican candidate this November.
Sajid Tarar is a businessman who runs the Center for Social Change, a non-profit organization that helps individuals with disabilities. He founded Muslims for Trump earlier this year in his home state of Maryland, and has tried to expand the group into a national organization in an effort to tip the scales towards Trump. (He declined to provide membership numbers, but told CNN that there were 700 people on his e-mail list.) He is routinely pictured with Trump at events where the Republican candidate seeks to promote a more minority-friendly image.
To better understand why Tarar founded Muslims for Trump and why he is supporting a candidate who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, I spoke to him by phone on Thursday. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Omer Aziz: Let’s begin with the obvious question. Why do you support Donald Trump?
Sajid Tarar: First, let me tell you my background. I have studied political science and I came here as a law student. I have a law degree from Pakistan and a law degree from the U.S. I am part of the angry Americans who are disappointed by the state of democracy in this country. Over the last eight years of Obama’s policies, I became very disappointed with legacy politics and traditional politics. And then Donald Trump came with a self-funded campaign, anti-political correctness, anti-establishment, a brand new person, an outsider, who has the will to do something. He has made mistakes but those mistakes were in business and not in politics.
OA: Are you concerned with the hostile comments Donald Trump has made towards minorities, whether Mexicans or Muslims?
ST: I am a Muslim myself. The Muslim-ban statement, when he made it, the California incident [San Bernardino attack] had just happened, and the flood of Syrian refugees are coming here without documentation, which I am against myself because ISIS has said they will send their operators in the form of Syrian refugees; they have done it in Europe. Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech was “America First.” And Trump said that the ban will have exceptions. So the liberal media doesn’t take the second part—exceptions, which are from the war-torn countries and countries with the jihadi elements.
OA: So will Syrians be allowed to come in under Trump’s plan?
ST: Of course. And Hillary has said that she will triple the numbers, and they don’t have any documentation. If all the Syrians are going to come here, who’s going to fight their war? American sons and daughters? They should go to Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, or other Muslim countries, but they want to come across the Atlantic, and they want to come here.
OA: Turkey and Jordan have over two million Syrian refugees already.
ST: They should go to other neighboring countries. I mean, those are convenient, they can go back to Syria when the point comes up, when the circumstances allow them. Why do they want to cross the Atlantic and come here to the Western civilization which mostly they hate?
OA: Maybe for a similar reason that you did.
ST: I’m not a refugee. I came here as a student, and I came legally. If they want to vet me, they can. I don’t have any bad intentions towards this country. And if I ever do, I will leave; I will go somewhere else.
OA: What I’m trying to understand is that you run Muslims For Trump, and many of these refugees with their families are fleeing because of terrorism and the Assad regime, and they presumably want to come to the United States for a better life.
ST: Then don’t call them refugees. If they want a better life, don’t give them the name “refugee” and let them gain the sympathies that they are liberal.
OA: America has a tradition, as you know, of welcoming people who are fleeing war-torn countries, concentration camps, terrorism.
ST: Let me give you an example. The gentleman who was here, who use the cooker bombs, he was the son of an Afghan refugee. The Orlando attacker was the son of an Afghan refugee. The Minnesota man was the son of a Somali refugee. The nation takes you with open arms, and you start putting the bombs in the city.
OA: Both New York and Orlando were done by U.S.-born citizens.
ST: You know what, I’m worried about my kids. I have four kids, they are in college. I’m worried about their future.
OA: Are you worried about them being discriminated against if Trump wins?
ST: No. I am worried about their internet activities. I don’t want my kids to go to ISIS because that’s not what Islam is about.
OA: Another question I have has to do with your Republican Convention speech, in which you led a prayer and quoted the Prophet Muhammad. I even noticed that you cited the Bukhari hadith. What was the reception to that like?
ST: I was treated very well. When I came off the stage, there were lines of people who wanted to shake my hand and take a picture with me. They told me that there are not enough Muslims who are role models. I was very humble and I was very thankful, and that was my objective. I have two objectives of doing what I am doing. My first objective is to tell the mainstream American that all of us Muslims, we are not bad people. My second objective is to serve as a role model to young American Muslims, as encouragement, to show them that this is a path to political participation. These are the two sole objectives I have. I don’t have a third objective or a personal objective.
OA: What do you mean by this path of political participation?
ST: I’m not trying to sell Donald Trump or Republicanism; whatever your political leanings, we need to have Muslim councilmen, we need to have Muslim state delegates, we need to have Muslim congressmen. We need to have Muslim senators. Plus, we are going through rough times and we have a sort of war against us. Regardless of what happens, we are scrutinized, they are profiling against us, so we have to stand up to provide the role model to tell the mainstream Americans that we are here and we are not going anywhere.
OA: You seem genuinely concerned about Muslims in America, and yet you are also supporting someone who has called for banning Muslims and has demonized Muslims in America, and I want to square those two beliefs.
ST: First of all, Trump is not a politician. Second, all of us are victims of the liberal media. It’s the fourth pillar of the government. CNN is the Clinton News Network. There is 24/7 fighting against Trump by the media, whatever he says. How can Trump ban all Muslims? It is against the American Constitution. There are 1.6 billion Muslims. He has said there will be a ban of Muslims but with exceptions.
OA: What are the conservatives on Fox News saying?
ST: Even Fox News is against Trump. Look at Megyn Kelly.
OA: Journalists have a role to play and that’s to push back when a candidate lies or twists the truth.
ST: According to my education, journalism is telling the stories of both sides and then letting viewers make up their minds and decisions.
OA: I want to go back to this Muslim ban and twisting Trump’s words. When Donald Trump put out his Muslim ban statement in December of 2015, he said he wanted a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” You are now saying that there will be exceptions and that the media is twisting the truth here. Which is right?
ST: So far, according to my information, we don’t have any border security. Eight hundred people the other day, they were on the deportation list, and we gave them citizenship. This is the system we have. Not just Muslims, look at Mexicans. They were dropping their kids at the border and Obama was taking it.
OA: Just to clarify, you don’t support a Muslim ban.
ST: No, I support Muslim ban with exceptions.
OA: What are those exceptions?
ST: Exceptions are where we are fighting wars. Where there are jihadi elements, we have to stop it. Not a ban on all Muslims, but a ban with exceptions.
OA: So if a Pakistani law student applies for a student visa under a Trump administration, would that person fall under these exceptions or would he or she be outright banned?
ST: If that person comes on the list, and if the intelligence agencies have information that this person is a threat to American national security, regardless of who that person is, I think they need to be stopped. Regardless of who that person is—if he is a Jew, Hindu, Sikh, and he is a threat to American security, why should he come here?
OA: I think everyone would agree that individuals who pose a threat to the country shouldn’t be allowed to enter. It’s this idea of banning one religion that many people find sickening.
ST: We are fighting a war in the Middle East, and ISIS and Al Qaeda have declared jihad. If people have bad intentions, they can’t be allowed in. Let me give you another example. Barack Obama called ISIS the “J.V. team.” ISIS grew under the watch of Hillary Clinton. This jihad and radicalism is not just a threat to the Western world; it’s a threat to Islam.
OA: I believe your background is in business. How did you respond to the Times story that Donald Trump lost $916 million and probably didn’t pay taxes for 18 years?
ST: Frankly speaking, I was sitting among the business people of the day, and I told them, “Look how strong Donald Trump is.” Four times he went bankrupt, yet he still stood back up. Bankruptcy is a part of a business; it’s allowed by the local laws. And the taxation breaks he took, he used the tax code—the same one that The New York Times has taken advantage of.
At least he has done something in his life. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has not created a single job. Barack Obama has not created a single job. Tim Kaine started as a city councilmen and made a profession out of it. This is not supposed to be a profession but a public service. These people are the reason that Americans don’t have faith in Congress. It’s the reason that democracy is falling apart. And it’s the reason I’m supporting Donald Trump.
OA: But the point about taxes is that Trump may have paid zero taxes for 18 years. The military, veterans, the economy; the government is able to function only because citizens pay into the Treasury. Doesn’t it bother you that someone worth $10 billion—according to Trump—didn’t pay a single dime in taxes?
ST: It would have bothered me if it was illegal. But it’s legal.
OA: It’s unethical.
ST: What bothers me is that Hillary was secretary of state and there was pay-to-play going on; 1,100 foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and they got their meetings with the secretary of state. That was illegal. That was below the belt. Trump’s not paying taxes—if it was illegal, yes that would have bothered me.
OA: On the question of taxes though, the difference between the two is that if I pull up Hillary Clinton’s tax returns, I can see everything, but I cannot do the same with Trump. If I want to know how much in taxes Donald Trump has paid, where he has made charitable donations, I can’t find that out. You talk about unfairness; isn’t that unfair?
ST: Hillary’s daughter is now taking $55,000 for speeches. This is not called democracy. It is called franchise. The Middle East is burning and our president is worried about trans-gender restrooms. This is what Democrats call “government”? My final point is that the most junior senator came from Chicago—heavily taxed city, the toughest gun laws—and his buddy Emmanuel is the mayor there, and Chicago is the murder capital of the world. Obama has betrayed the country with “Hope and Change.” Obama went to Cuba, they never received him, he went to Saudi Arabia, they never received him, Philippines president has cursed him, and in China they didn’t even bring out a red carpet. He is a disgrace to the office of president. America is burnings from Charlotte to Baltimore and we’ve become a lawless society. And this is the image of Americans—a shirtless guy jumping on a police car? This is the image the world is watching? The world needs strong leadership, and these politicians have disappointed us.
OA: I guess we’ll see what happens on Election Day. Thanks for your time and for speaking to me.