Muslim Leaders Debate Participation in American Politics
By Tahir Ali
Worcester, MA: It was a rainy Saturday evening in Worcester, yet the Muslim community members were pouring in and filling up the prayer hall of the Islamic Center located on 57 Laurel Street, in Worcester.
The topic of interest that night was “MUSLIM PARTICIPATION IN AMERICAN POLITICS”. Speakers included: Honorable Saghir Tahir, Assemblyman from New Hampshire, and local activists Farooq Ansari, Tahir Ali, Rashid Shaikh and Dr. Ashraf Elkerm.
Dr. Saleem Khanani of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester (ISGW), the organizer of the event, introduced the panelists.
By virtue of being the first speaker it was appropriate to start with a presentation that showed in chronological order where the journey of thousand steps took place. “It started right here in Massachusetts, and with pioneers sitting here at the table,” I interjected.
The first slide titled “First Come First Served” speaks for itself:
First Come First Served:
1992 - First American Muslims Elected as Delegates/Alternates:
Farooq Ansari - Delegate, District 3, Massachusetts
Barbara Khan - Alternate Delegate, District 3, Massachusetts
1992 - First American Muslims Elected as Delegate/Alternate-at-large
Tahir Ali - Alternate Delegate-at-large, Massachusetts
Shahid Mahmood - Alternate Delegate-at-large, New Jersey
1994 - First American Muslim elected to office in a Southern State
Larry Shaw - Assemblyman, North Carolina (Served 8 years)
2000 - First American Muslim elected to office in Eastern State Saghir “saggy” Tahir - Assemblyman, New Hampshire (8 years)
2002 - First American Muslim elected to Judge of Superior Court
David Shaeen - Judge, Marion County Superior Court, Indiana
2002 - First American Muslim State Senator elected
Larry Shaw - State Senator, North Carolina (up to 6 years)
2006 - First American Muslim Congressman elected
Keith Ellison - Congressman, Minnesota (up to 2 years)
A total of 700 Muslim candidates ran for various public offices in 2000 of which 152 were elected.
Farooq Ansari recalled that it was in 1991 when he first introduced Dr. Agha Saeed, a visiting professor at Harvard University (currently the national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance and AMT). “It was right here in this Center,” Ansari said, “when Dr. Agha Saeed addressed the Muslim community present at the time. He was very articulate in stressing the need of Muslim participation in US politics.”
It was in 1992 that 46 registered voters were successful in getting Farooq Ansari and Barbara Khan elected as the first American Muslims Delegates to the National Convention. Similarly, Tahir Ali (MA) and Shahid Mahmood (NJ) were also elected as the first American Muslim Delegate-Alternates-at-Large, thereby, fulfilling Dr. Saeed’s resolve.
Rashid Shaikh shared some of the exciting moments he experienced while running for office in the Democratic political party. “I ran for Delegate but I lost and then ran for the most competitive position - Delegate-at-large - and I lost, but I did not give up.”
Shaikh, admitted that win or lose, you are a winner by just participating. “I tell you there are a lot of opportunities in this country if you really want them.” Rashid Shaikh now serves as a member in the “legislative committee” in his town.
Dr. Ashraf Elkerm, former president of ISGW, agreed with the panel and emphasized the importance of “being counted”. He brought attention to the highly competitive and fierce race between Senator Barrack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. “And while the DNC is behind closed door to determine the fate of the Michigan and Florida delegates, we should reflect upon the importance of our participation.”
Honorable Saghir Tahir, fully agreed with the theme: “When you are elected everybody listens to you – it doesn’t take courage [to participate in the political process] – it takes commitment.”
Saghir Tahir told the community to follow Tip O’Neal’s (former speaker of the house) directive: “ ‘All politics is local’ – If you are giving money to out-of-state candidates rather than candidates in your own state then you are doing something wrong.” He clarified, “The elected officials work 24/7 to take your freedom and your money, what a shame it is that we cannot work 10% to protect our liberty and pocket book.”
Saghir Tahir assured the crowd that each of them could bring a change. The country is going bad “and I am not talking as a Muslim, but as an American – begin now there is no tomorrow.”
Saghir Tahir concluded by saying that he is able to spend time here and other places, because of his wife’s relentless support - “credit must be given where it is due.”
The message(s) appeared to strike home as can be gathered from the jubilant crowd. Apparently, the wet weather outside the Center did not dampen the peoples’ spirits inside.