A different perspective

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Hope Mustakim

On March 30, 2011, Hope and Naz Mustakim were abruptly woken from sleep at 7 a.m. by four armed federal agents.

They were told that Naz’s green card had been revoked, and he was being taken into custody. He was held at a detention center in South Texas for 10 months and was not eligible for bail.

Naz moved to the United States from Singapore with his family when he was 13. He has always been a legal permanent resident, but on March 30, some bad decisions he had made as a teenager—and already paid the price for—caused a new set of problems.

Hope detailed on their website, “Free Naz,” that as a young adult, Naz struggled with substance abuse and received treatment at Mission Waco’s Manna House. In 2007, he faced trial for his substance abuse arrests and was advised to plead guilty, not knowing that it would lead to his detainment four years later. The plea violated the terms of his green card and was classified as an aggravated felony under immigration court, making him subject to immediate deportation.

“It was traumatic to have your spouse just yanked away from you so unexpectedly,” Hope said. “You’re woken up from sleep, and they are taken away.”

Fast forward to 2017, and Naz has been free for five years. The Mustakims live in an “intentionally diverse Christian community” in Waco at a time of high racial tension throughout the nation.

Hope said the diversity in Waco crosses racial, familial and socioeconomic lines. All of these have been woven into a varied community filled with people who have all been shaped by their unique experiences, she said.

“That’s what we find makes Waco so endearing and so charming and special is not that it’s perfect or fancy or glamorous but that it’s got heart and soul,” Hope said.

Hope moved to Texas in 2007, and Naz grew up in a Muslim family but converted to Christianity when he was 26. Naz said that the hardest part about moving to the United States was fitting in with his classmates. The prominence of sports in American culture was difficult for him to adjust to, but “the food was OK,” he said.

Now, Naz works as the food services coordinator for the Family Abuse Center, and Hope is heavily involved with the Waco Immigrants Alliance, which seeks to make Waco a welcoming community for immigrants, and serves on the board of Grassroots Leadership in Austin. Through their own experiences with immigration, they said they have realized the importance of standing in solidarity with others and have had countless opportunities to do so recently.

“As soon as it was announced, we went to [Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport],” Hope said of the first travel ban announced by the White House on Jan. 27.

Hope said they could not let their Muslim brothers and sisters believe that there was not a single Christian family that would stand with them and say, “this is wrong.”

“I still have a heart for those Muslim people and [know] what it is that they are going through, because I was one of them,” Naz said.

Hope said there is an unmistakable feeling when you are standing with other people that you are on the right side of history. Much of the Mustakims’ family is Muslim, so they said they know that being a Muslim does not make a person a terrorist, rather it makes them peaceful, hospitable and kind.

“Even Christianity can be spun in a way that is violent, and historically we’ve seen that, so it’s just the same way we can pick apart the Quran is the same way we can do the Bible,” Hope said.

Naz’s Muslim background serves as a bridge, they said. When they went to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to protest, many of the Muslim women recognized their last name.

The United States is seen as a melting pot, which has always been seen as a strength, Hope said. Communities that highlight people’s strengths and uniqueness are communities that thrive, she said, because it doesn’t benefit anyone if everyone is the same.

Hope encouraged students who are feeling isolated during this time to find a place where they feel safe and to share their story. Sometimes, hearing that there are actual people affected by these policies is the only thing that can change a person’s perspective, she said.

“They are not alone because it’s always hard when you think that you are isolated, that you are the only one that is affected,” Naz said, “but there are other people that are affected [and] even those who are not directly affected by the ban, we are standing with them.”

Hope said there are 92 verses in the Bible that address the “foreigner,” “alien” or the “sojourner.”

“For Waco to not be welcoming, it implies such negative sense, atmosphere, so it’s important for Waco to be welcoming because, for us, that’s what makes Waco—to be able to accept other people who are different from us,” Naz said.