Sophomore Moustafa Hadi met Sofia* when she was his tour guide in Iraq during the summer of 2015. Sofia showed the tour group around the research and faculty unit of Al-Kafeel Hospital, one of the most modern hospitals in Iraq. Hadi’s father is a representative for the hospital, and he brought Moustafa along for the trip. Hadi and Sofia maintained contact and ended up getting engaged this past summer, around a year later.
Hadi was born in Lebanon, where his mother is from, but he identifies more with the Iraqi culture of his father’s side of the family. Hadi and his immediate family are U.S. citizens––he was raised in Michigan, where he moved when he was a child. Every summer that he is able, he travels to the Middle East to visit family and interact with the culture there. While Vanderbilt has always been Hadi’s dream school, he missed the deadline to apply during his senior year of school. He ended up going to the University of Michigan but transferred to Vanderbilt after just one year.
“I just liked the thought of coming to Vanderbilt,” Hadi said. “It’s a really nice school, the campus is beautiful, academics are, like I said, top 15.”
Hadi is on the pre-med track and plans on becoming a neurosurgeon one day. His fiancé, Sofia, is in a pre-pharmacy program in Turkey. After the two got engaged this summer, Hadi’s plan was to get Sofia a green card so that she could move to the United States to be with him. His sister had done this action for her husband, who she also met in Iraq, years prior. He spent around $2,300 on the paperwork and was planning on having Sofia move to the U.S. once she got her undergraduate degree in Turkey.
“I had the basic assumption that we’d go off the same idea that my sister had,” Hadi said. “We’d buy a house hopefully after finishing her school, graduating from undergrad and everything. In my case, we’re not planning on getting married anytime soon obviously. It’s non-traditional.”
The fact that someone can do this, at least to this extent, scares me.
However, the election of president Donald Trump, who vowed to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from entering the U.S., made Hadi nervous about his future with his fiancé. And on Jan. 27, these fears began to become reality for him. President Donald Trump signed an executive order which banned the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq, from entering the U.S. on any visa category.
“With the whole executive order, she can’t come over here anymore,” Hadi said. “People who want to get visas are going to have a lot harder of a time doing that…I don’t know what I’m going to do now with that to be honest.”
While the executive order has since been overturned by a district court, the uncertainty for the future lingers. Hadi’s brother-in-law, who is currently residing in the U.S. with a green card, is unsure about whether he will be able to leave the U.S. to visit family in Iraq.
“They’ve been really tense conversations,” Hadi said. “For example, with my brother-in-law, I’m really close to him. So swearing is common. That’s how he lets out his frustration. He doesn’t know what to do as of now…He doesn’t know if by the time he gets there to see his family, maybe he’ll spend some time with them, if he’ll be able to return or he doesn’t know if appeal courts are going to overrule the judge’s ruling. The problem, the issue, is, not knowing. Not having the freedom, the liberty, to go back and visit periodically.”
Moustafa’s first reaction to the election and the following executive order was one of shock and fear.
“The fact that someone can do this, at least to this extent, scares me,” he said. “Because obviously, there’s a lot of anti-semitism, there’s a lot of Islamophobia, that’s very real and anyone who says otherwise is obviously wrong and lying to themselves. This guy’s our president, he represents us now. Yeah, that scares me.”
As someone who was raised with a strong connection to his faith, Hadi is appalled by the distortion of Muslim values and propagation of Islamophobia in the U.S. right now.
“We’re peaceful people,” Hadi said. “There’s nothing we do that should make you fear us. We’re not coming here to impose anything upon anyone.”
*name has been changed