Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may have angered many Muslims when he said that he would ban Muslim immigration to the United States, but a close Muslim business associate, Palestinian American Farouk Shami, says he suspects Trump would moderate his views if he were to become president.
Shami emigrated to the US from a village near Ramallah, Palestine, with only $71 in his pocket in 1965, and went on to build one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of haircare products, Farouk Systems. His products have been featured on Trump’s television shows and Shami says that he first met the property mogul when he sponsored Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe in 2003.
But, last year, Farouk withdrew sponsorship of Trump’s Miss Universe pageants and Celebrity Apprentice over the candidate’s comments about Mexican immigrants.
Now, however, he says he hopes to reconnect with Trump.
“As Trump becomes the Republican candidate, I plan to connect with him and donate to his campaign and try to get him Muslim votes,” Shami told Al Jazeera.
“If we do that, he will be open for us and soften his talks about immigrants and Muslims.”
Shami described Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims as “only campaign talk”.
“[What he says] is unconstitutional and he knows that,” added Shami, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor of Texas in 2010.
“[The] USA is a country of immigrants and he knows that first-hand.
“Media in [the] USA have been marketing anti-Islam for a long time, and much more since 9/11.”
Shami said that he believes Trump has tapped into that sentiment among those who have been “brainwashed” to oppose Islam and immigration, but also believes he has support “from those who are tired of typical politicians”.
Despite this, he added: “In my personal opinion, Trump does not believe in what he said.”
“I am proud of my Muslim religion of love and peace, but at the same time I respect everyone’s faith,” Shami said, addressing those who have questioned or criticised his Muslim faith.
“In America, we are equal in front of God and the law, regardless of our faith, our colour or our origins. Politics is separate and has nothing to do with [religion]. That is how it should be.”
Shami said he is also a friend of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of Trump’s most critical rivals, but that he disagrees with Cruz “all the way”, particularly on the issue of Israel and Palestine.
Shami believes that Trump, if elected president, would favour a more balanced US approach to negotiations between the two and said he is encouraged by Trump’s claims that he would be “neutral”.
“Trump is a businessman and understands that a good deal is a fair deal,” he said.
“He will be a more honest broker than previous presidents who tried and failed because they need Israeli support in Congress and [the] Senate as well as financial Jewish support and votes.
“Trump can do without that.”
Overall, he said, he is optimistic. “Trump can be an honest broker in the Palestinian-Israel peace process. No other candidates have the guts to be as honest as Trump, we hope.”
But Shami is opposed to Trump’s plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico. “Walls don’t work unless you want to take people’s land, as Israel did in Palestine. We need to build bridges, not walls. We need to build industries and manufacturing on the border for Americans and Mexicans as well.”
“Trump is a businessman, so he is a planner and he planned all his comments to get people’s anger out by supporting him,” Shami added.
“I am not surprised in the tone of the campaign. It brought out what many people think of their politicians.”
Trump seemingly also has faith in Shami, at least as far as his hair is concerned – reportedly using Farouk Systems’ CHI Helmet Head hairspray.