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National

Frustrated With GOP Candidates, Muslims Recall More Welcoming Days

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There have been a lot of harsh words about Muslims on the presidential campaign trail, some of the sharpest from Republicans Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Many Muslims say the current political climate now feels worse than it did in the days just after 9/11. And they're frustrated with the Republican Party. As NPR's Asma Khalid reports, it wasn't always that way.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: When I met with Saba Ahmed, she was wearing a headscarf and a traditional Pakistani outfit. She explained that her Islamic values seem more in sync with conservative American values.

SABA AHMED: I realized I aligned a lot more with the Republican Party. I was pro-life, pro-business, pro-trade, pro-traditional family values.

KHALID: Ahmed is a Republican. She says Donald Trump is one of her top candidates, but she's frustrated with how he talks about Islam.

AHMED: You know, shutting down mosques, putting IDs on Muslims, it's not even about being politically correct. It's about basic human dignity.

KHALID: These days, Ahmed is a rare breed. Eight percent of Muslims identify as Republican, according to a 2009 Gallup study. As recently as 2000, though, a number of Muslim groups endorsed George W. Bush. And to this day, many still consider themselves conservative, just no longer Republican. That's because of the rhetoric about Islam that has come from prominent Republicans, says Dalia Mogahed. She works at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

DALIA MOGAHED: If there was one Muslim issue that cuts across party affiliation, it's civil liberties.

KHALID: At a halal supermarket in Virginia, I meet Umit Hodja. It's right around prayer time, so you can call hear the call to prayer in the background.

UMIT HODJA: You know, it kind of hurts to hear what's going on in the news from a political perspective. And I'm honestly, as much as possible, I've been trying not to hear too much of it because it affects us emotionally.

KHALID: Hodja remembers the days after September 11, when George W. Bush went to a mosque and specifically said, Islam is peace. Now, Hodja says, candidates publicly and shamelessly bash Muslims, and that worries him.

HODJA: And it just makes you wonder, gosh, am I going to be in some sort of a camp? First thing, you know, they're going to mark us with some - make us wear special clothes or whatever. It's just like what we did to the Japanese a while back. Is something like that going to happen again? Is it possible in these days that something like that going to happen? You would think not.

KHALID: But, Hodja says he doesn't know, and he's afraid for the America his four kids will inherit. Fahad Rahman used to vote Republican, but now he's an independent. He's disappointed with the political party he used to support.

FAHAD RAHMAN: There are very few voices that are actually saying, hey, you know, this sort of rhetoric is not helpful. It's not part of what we believe.

KHALID: Rahman agrees with the GOP's economic message but says it feels like there's no space for him in the current party. I asked him what would it take for him to go back.

RAHMAN: Quite frankly to just not be a pinata for the Republican Party.

KHALID: Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.