Community Leaders on Election 2004 (2)
By Lisette Poole


Editorial note: This is the second part of a post-election survey of prominent American Muslim scholars.
American Muslims, like other communities in the United States, became engaged in the Election 2004 process and members from all walks of life say they have gained new insights and sensitivities in the process.


Omar Ahmad, Dr.Zahid Bukhari, Hadia Mubarak, Professor Aminah McCloud


The most significant and long-lasting changes and expansions were observed among the Muslim students.
Interviews revealed that the Muslim students, more than any other segment of the American Muslim population, had looked more intently and perceptively at the emerging sensitivities and sensibilities. This was of course tied to their efforts to translate their concerns into their votes. MSA-N is a member of the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT).

An internal survey of 500 MSA members, available at http://www.msa-natl.org, reveals a number of important trends:

1. 92% of the respondents are US citizens.

2. 85% were planning to vote.

3. 81% agreed with AMT’s criteria to endorse a presidential candidate.

4. 75% were affiliated with a mainstream political party. (Of all those who were registered 69% as Democrats, 21% Republican 8% Green, and 2% other)

5. Asked about top issues concerning them as students and citizen, the respondents offered the most comprehensive list compared to all other segments of the Muslim community. They actually came up with a list of 19 issues which included the following in descending order of importance: civil rights, foreign policy, occupation of Iraq, education, religious freedom, social security, government subsidies, Palestinian- Israeli conflict, health care, legislative reforms profiling, environment, crime, media regulation, affirmative action, taxes, veterans, defense and immigration.

Social and political analysts see learning and expansion takin g place most noticeably among the Muslim youth. The very fact that they identified and detailed their concerns sets the stage for the expansion of American Muslim agenda summarized as “equal rights for all and the restoration of civil liberties” drastically curtailed following 9/11.

Hadia Mubarak, President, of Muslim Students Association-National, and a student at Georgetown university, shared her views during a telephone interview: “We feel a need to be engaged and develop a more visible participation at local levels. We seek to establish relations with others, especially students. We affirm our identity as Americans living in a pluralistic society that does not discriminate against others. We care about community service, soup kitchens, jobs after we graduate.”

She said that 130 MSA chapters across the United States had reported positive experiences from their involvement in the presidential elections. “People urged us to speak up. They said they had a limited, or dis torted view of religion and foreign politics because they only heard one side of the issue.”

Prof. Aminah McCloud, DePaul University: “We must focus on the domestic agenda and we must be concrete about what we stand for. In 2004, Muslims have learnt a little bit about all mainstream issues, particularly about education and health. They have improved their sensibilities but they will be judged by whether or not they stick around after the elections. Issues are not going to go away and folks are preparing to protest in different ways. Muslim should take their intellectual genius and their resources to the groups that are already there: cement new relations, pour glue into these relations, and the Muslims will be fine.”

Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdul Rasheed,Naib Ameer, Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), summing up his experience, said he has vowed to remain engaged on several levels. “We must remain involved in at the grassroots level, the county level and state level, in sea son, off–season. It is a slow and steady process.” He said he favored alliances with other parties because issues of popular concern would be tackled better with a bigger base. “We must make others aware of our concerns. Civil liberties issues are of prime importance to us, but the PATRIOT act affects all Americans. Social justice issues like health for the uninsured, jobs for the unemployed are important to us too.”

Yaphett El-Amin, state assemblywoman from Missouri, emphasized the need for American Muslim groups to remain focused on civil rights. “Our diversity can be a tremendous strength to help us build from the grassroots up. To secure the needs of our communities we must work in the inner cities, as well as the countryseats. Education should be as important to us in the suburbs as it is in the metropolitan areas. We have to get beyond utilizing elections to voice our concerns. It must be a steady, consistent, continuous effort” to build a better America.

Dr. Zahid Bukhari, director and co-principal of Georgetown university’s Muslims in American Public Squares Project (MAPS), said he feels American Muslims have demonstrated “political savvy” because despite the “discriminations, detentions and harassment” they have experienced since 9/11, they are even more determined to remain involved on political, social, economic and religious levels.

In a telephone interview, he explained, “In our survey, we asked if people had experiences profiling, 25 percent said yes. We asked if they had personally experienced discrimination, 40 percent said yes. We asked if they knew of someone who had been discriminated against 57 percent said yes. Yet, when we asked if American Muslims should choose to remain politically involved, 90 percent said yes. When we asked if they should select a candidate, 90 percent said yes. When we asked if we should participate in social services 90 percent said yes, and when we asked if we should be involved in events invo lving interfaith relations, 90 percent said yes.

“These statistics speak volumes. They mean that in the midst of the discouragement from detentions, arrests, propaganda against Islam from religious organizations, American Muslims still call America their home. The myth of returning to the countries from which they came has been smashed. They are choosing to take part in the issues of the society in which they live.”

Omar Ahmed, Chairman Board of Directors, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), observed that while restoration of civil rights remains the focus of American Muslim’s attention, he and other AMT members will continue to work with other parties—Greens, Libertarians, and Reform – to tackle social justice issues as well. Economic prosperity is important for every citizen in the United States. We should like for everyone around us, what we wish for ourselves.

He said involvement with other political parties during this election campaign was a “ positive experience”. He added, “We have learned to act together and consult each other. It was the first time that representatives of other political parties had the chance to meet with the American Muslim community in an official capacity. We were able to share our concerns.”

Waheed Khalid, New Jersey-based veteran political activist, said he favored building alliances with other parties because “it is important that we establish ourselves as a viable community with equal rights as everyone else. In the aftermath of 9/11 many of our people were sent to jail, many are still detained, we are given no explanation. Our civil rights are being violated. We must work with others to build up a stronger voice on these issues.”

Dr. Zedzib Sacirbey, Advisor, Bosniak American Congress: “In this election the American Muslim community has decisively (acted) for participation in the American Muslim politics. In doing so, it has rejected those who are against participation. This has e nabled Muslims to gain greater knowledge of the political process and mainstream issues. Due to organized efforts, the Muslim voter turnout was at least 30% higher than 2000. Of course we have developed new sensitivity to many new issues but denial of human rights vastly diminishes one’s capacity to pay attention to other issues. We need to take three steps to prepare for 2006: voter registration, better understanding of how the Democratic and Republican Parties operate on a daily basis, and keep rich Muslim businessmen from imprisoning Muslim politics in their drawing rooms.”
(Lisette B. Poole, a freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay area, also lecturers at CSUH)



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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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