Years ago, Faysal Kolkailah was attending a dinner at Cal Poly when the subject of Islam came up.
“You are a Muslim?” a woman at the table asked him.
“Yes,” Kolkailah said.
“Don’t you think it’s time to close the door to immigration?” she asked.
Kolkailah, who immigrated to the United States from Egypt 40 years ago, said he was disturbed by the question and asked the woman about her heritage. She told him her grandfather came to America from Ireland.
“We came to this country on different boats at different times,” he said to her. “Now we are on the same ship. With your attitude, we will all drown.”
Now, Kolkailah says he would like to say the same thing to President Donald Trump.
Kolkailah, a longtime San Luis Obispo resident and professor in Cal Poly’s aerospace engineering department, said he is worried after hearing about Trump’s executive order barring immigrants, including legal permanent residents, from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S., as well as an indefinite ban on entry for refugees from Syria.
The order, which has caused widespread protests at airports across the country, blocks visitors of any kind from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. It also bans refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees.
“With this mentality, I think we’re going to be in trouble with the rest of the world,” Kolkailah said. “It’s really very disturbing, very concerning, very sad.”
Kolkailah said he was in meetings with board members of the Islamic Society of SLO County for most of Sunday. They discussed what they could do in response to the ban. Ultimately, they decided to discuss it with the community at their monthly dinner, which will take place Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Mitchell Park Senior Center.
“We’re gonna continue discussing that and see what kind of action we need to do along with the neighbors and other organizations,” Kolkailah said.
Kolkailah’s daughter, Noha Kolkailah, is a vice principal at Mission Prep in San Luis Obispo. When she heard about the executive order, “I cried,” she said. “We have students who, if it weren’t for their personal plans, they would have been affected.”
Noha Kolkailah said she, along with other Muslim community members, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon and various groups, including People of Faith and Justice, plan to meet Tuesday to discuss actions they can take with the community regarding the order.
“I just want the community and the Muslim community to know I am absolutely standing with them and will do everything I can,” Harmon said. “The city of San Luis Obispo is an inclusive community of all peoples of all religious backgrounds.”
Three Cal Poly students could be affected by the order, according to Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier. Two of the students are from Iran and one is from Syria. Lazier did not provide any information on whether the students are enrolled in classes this quarter or whether they might have been traveling abroad when the order was signed into effect.
Cal Poly’s International Center has reached out to the three via email. “At this point in time, please know that you may not be able to return to the U.S. and to Cal Poly should you decide to depart the country,” the email read.
I told my daughter this morning, maybe Donald Trump is good for this country. Because he’s going to unite this country against what’s wrong. Because what he’s doing is wrong.
Faysal Kolkailah, Muslim Cal Poly professor
The email also included information on how to meet with an international student adviser as well as information about resources such as Campus Health and Student Ombuds Services.
“Please know that we stand by you and are here to support you during this time,” the email read.
Tess Whittlesey, communications director for Rep. Salud Carbajal, said it is unclear whether any constituents have been affected.
“We’re still working out the full impact of this order on our district,” she wrote in an email. “We’re requesting numbers from (the Department of Homeland Security), but they haven’t been very forthcoming with Congress members regarding the (executive order).”
On Monday, Carbajal’s office announced that the representative has co-sponsored an act called the Statue of Liberty Values Act that blocks the use of federal funds to implement or enforce Trump’s executive order.
“President Trump’s overly broad executive order only serves to fuel anti-American sentiment and propaganda, putting our national security at risk,” Carbajal said in a news release.
For his part, Kolkailah, the Cal Poly professor, doesn’t understand Trump’s thinking but is hoping for the best.
“I told my daughter this morning, maybe Donald Trump is good for this country,” Kolkailah said. “Because he’s going to unite this country against what’s wrong. Because what he’s doing is wrong.”