Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, said her nonprofit used to “believe in engagement as a tool” and worked with the Obama administration on civil rights issues. When Mr. Trump was elected, Ms. Khera hoped to continue that tradition, and accepted a meeting with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, in the weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
“We thought it was important to work with Mr. Kushner to have the opportunity to determine to what degree the hateful rhetoric used on the campaign trail was bluster,” Ms. Khera said.
A couple of weeks later, she said, the travel ban was rolled out.
“It became abundantly clear that this was his agenda,” she said. “Our posture now has really moved; our form of engagement now is really filing lawsuits.”
Despite his track record at home, however, Mr. Trump has shifted in the eyes of some Middle Eastern royalty to ally from antagonist. And in March, he called the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia “probably the strongest it’s ever been.”
The president has also publicly praised Islam abroad. Last year in Saudi Arabia, at a summit meeting of dozens of Muslim leaders, he retreated from his incendiary language and called Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”
Speaking before Middle Eastern diplomats at last week’s iftar gathering, Mr. Trump reiterated that statement and focused on the summit meeting, calling it “one of the great two days of my life” and giving thanks for the “renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation.”
The remarks were less than convincing for American Muslims.
“What the president does is motivated in his self-interest,” Ms. Khera said. “He believes he motivates his base by demonizing Muslims, and when it comes to a foreign audience, especially in the gulf, he’s looking to curry favor with these power brokers. He’s a transactional person.”