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Stanford University School of Medicine

Muslim and afraid – but not alone

Every night when he was still in Homs, Syria, a then-5-year-old named Mustafa hid underneath his mattress because he thought it protected him from the airstrikes. While underneath, he would close his eyes and recite his favorite verse from the Quran: “His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them, for He is the Highest and Most Exalted.”

Years subsequent to fleeing from Homs and resettling in Amman, Jordan, Mustafa and his family were granted resettlement to the United States. They were scheduled to depart Amman next week. Amidst tears of desperation and confusion, Mustafa called me yesterday and said, “I don’t know why, but mom says we can no longer go to America. She said it’s because of who we are, but I packed and everything. I’m wearing the Stanford University sweater you got me. I still want to go there to study computers. Do you think I can?”

I paused before responding, painfully aware of the cost of promising something undeliverable. “I don’t know, but I promise there are people here who will do everything they can to make sure you can come here. I promise I am right here for you. I need you to understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being Muslim or Syrian. You are a good, good person, Mustafa.”

This week has been especially difficult for myself and members of my Muslim community. Last Friday, President Trump passed an executive order to block refugees and restrict immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. He also suspended the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, leaving young children like Mustafa with no opportunity to come to the U.S. and pursue their academic and professional dreams. For others, this ban means our families can no longer come visit us here in the States, and we are no longer able to travel as freely. We are scared for our safety as a direct result of an increase in terrorist attacks against Muslims, including the burning of mosques in Texas and Quebec this week alone.

That said, we are also hopeful that we will overcome this phase and continue to fight, alongside our allies, against this ban. Overnight, the American public raised $1 million to rebuild the mosque in Texas. Synagogues and churches offered their own houses of worship for Muslims. Thousands marched across the U.S. at several airports in sign of solidarity.

Today, I pledge to continue working with Syrian child refugees to better understand their mental health outcomes as a direct result of the war and discrimination they continue to experience. And, I invite those of you in the Stanford community to join our group, the Refugee Working Group (link to .pdf) -- under the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health -- and commit to helping us alleviate conditions for Syrian refugees. You may also contact me for more information.

Laila Soudi is a researcher in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford’s School of Medicine. A native Syrian, Laila has been working with refugee populations for years.

Previously: The mental health of refugees: A psychologist debunks common mythsChoices for Syrian children and A first-hand look at refugee camps in Greece
Photo courtesy of Laila Soudi

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