Sajid Tarar was the last person to take the stage at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, after Tiffany Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and others had come and gone, and after most convention watchers had started flooding toward the exits.
“Let’s pray to get our country back,” he said in his brief benediction, which the cable news channels mostly talked over. He invoked the prophet Muhammad, and said “the values reflected by our leader must reflect the values of our forefathers.” There were some cheers, and some boos too.
“God bless America, God bless you, God bless Donald Trump,” he said.
Tarar is a Muslim, and he’s a Muslim for Trump. He might seem an unusual choice for a convention speaker, even after prime time, for a presidential candidate who has called for a ban on Muslims.
But Tarar considers himself “part of the angry Americans against the traditional politicians, and non-functioning, non-working Washington D.C.” Trump, he said, is “a doer.” He’ll go strong against extremists such as the Islamic State, where Obama has been weak, he said.
“And he’s an outsider. He says whatever he feels like. He doesn’t have some staffer writing his speeches. He says whatever he feels like.”
And Tarar doesn’t actually believe that Trump said all those bad things about Muslims.
He didn’t really say “Islam hates us,” Tarar insists.
He “didn’t hear” Trump say that 27 percent of Muslims are militant. He “didn’t hear” former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who will speak Wednesday, call for a “test” for all Muslims – and deportation for those who don’t pass the standards of American values.
He told Fusion, the online news site, in April: “When Donald Trump has said something about Muslims and Islam, he doesn’t mean American Muslims, he’s talking about terrorists.”
But: “No,” he says – “He didn’t tell me personally.”
Over the past few years, civil rights groups have cited increasing attacks and threats against Muslims in America, often against women wearing headscarves. And every time a Muslim carries out an act of violence somewhere, people “look at me different,” Tarar said.
But he blames a combination of the Islamic State and the “liberal media” for that hostility.
His wife and daughters don’t wear headscarves, but they sometimes wear the traditional Pakistani tunic and pants called shalwar khameez. But if someone were to attack them – well, “how could I blame them?” Tarar said.
“I would blame media.”
Tarar, who lives outside of Baltimore, said he moved to the United States from Pakistan to attend law school in the mid-’80s. He became a U.S. citizen in the ’90s. He owns real estate, works for an organization “that deals with senior citizens,” and has four kids – one of whom, he said, is a top squash player.
His Facebook page identifies him as an adviser at the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, and he says he founded a group called American Muslims for Trump.
It isn’t clear who else is a member. A Facebook page titled “American Muslims for Trump” has six “likes.” Another group, “Muslims for Trump,” has more than 430 members – and a wall full of people asking to be removed from the group.
Earlier this year, Tarar took Fusion reporter Casey Tolan to his local mosque to show him that there are other Muslim Trump supporters. But while Tolan found a few worshipers at the mosque who seemed to agree that Trump doesn’t hate Muslims, he didn’t appear to find any other diehards like Tarar. (“I don’t think that Donald Trump is a bad person,” one man said. “F Trump,” said another.)
Tarar isn’t entirely alone. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim lobbyist group that has regularly accused Trump of encouraging “Islamophobia,” said in March that it surveyed 2,000 Muslim voters, and that 11 percent said they supported Trump.
Tarar said that Muslims are “accepted” in Donald Trump’s America, he said. The evidence is his benediction Tuesday night. “People were taking pictures with me. This is just all liberal media and the liberal people creating this chaos and hate.”
According to Maryland court records, Tarar is 56. (He says he is 52.) Court records also indicate he failed repeatedly to pay his bills. There are four active cases against him — $3,515 for the Mid-Atlantic Car Wash Technology Inc.; $7,138 for SunTrust bank; $5,700 for the Jamestown Inlet Condo Council of Unit, and $6,619 for SunTrust.
“I’m in business and in business things happen here and there,” he says.
There is a series of criminal complaints too, all filed over two days in 2009, related to a gas station that he used to own: selling cigarettes without a license (“It was a business, and you know the business people have these things. . . . I was not selling drugs,” he said.) A complaint for driving a bus without a trader’s license. “I’m not a driver. I never had a bus.”
Asked if his trouble with the courts contributed to his distrust of government and support for Trump, he grew angry.
“What does that have to do with my political opinion,” he said. “This is completely irrelevant. . . . Only 30 percent of liberal media is honest.”
Tarar said he had “wanted to speak since a long time at a convention.” So he met with the members of the Trump campaign in New York this month, and they agreed.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a query about Tarar’s enlistment.
“They asked me not only to do the benediction, but to speak at the convention – I’m not sure when, but that is under consideration,” Tarar said. “I have prepared a speech and I have been looking forward.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Abigail Hauslohner