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www.amperspective.com Online Magazine

Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali



Elections 1996/2000   Elections 2002   Elections 2004  Elections 2006

American Muslims in Politics

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

American Muslims in 2006 elections

The seven-million-strong American Muslim community got a big political push when the Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the nation's first Muslim member to the US Congress in November 7, 2006 elections. Ellison's election was accompanied by a massive turnout of the American Muslim voters to make their voices heard.

"Tonight, we made history," Mr Ellison said in a victory speech to supporters. "We won a key election, but we did much more than that. We showed that a candidate can run a 100% positive campaign and prevail, even against tough opposition."

Throughout his campaign Ellison, a criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student, focused on issues that resonate in his electoral District in Minneapolis. Ellison won 56 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Alan Fine and the Independence Party's Tammy Lee, both of whom garnered 21 percent of the vote.

Another Muslim, Ahmad Hassan, failed in his congressional bid on Republican ticket. In Texas District 18, Ahmad Hassan, an Egyptian American, lost to Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee who was re-elected with a massive 80 percent of the vote.

Before Ellison’s election to the House, Larry Shaw, a Democrat State Senator of North Carolina, was the highest Muslim elected official in the United States. Larry Shaw, a corporate executive, was re-elected to the State senate on November 7.

It is not clear how many Muslim Americans contested in the 2006 elections but there are fragmented reports that dozens were candidate for various offices from US Congress, State Senate and assemblies to local bodies.

In New Hampshire, Saghir “Saggy” Tahir was re-elected for a third term of the State House of Representatives in Nov. 7 elections.

The number of Muslim candidates for various offices across the nation hit an all-time high of about 700 in 2000 but then declined dramatically, to about 70 in 2002 and about 100 in 2004, according to the American Muslim Alliance, a national organization.

In 2002, Maad Abu-Ghazalah, an Arab-American and Syed Rifat Mahmood, a Pakistani-American, made unsuccessful congressional bids from California. In 2004, Ferial Masry, a Saudi-born woman lost her bid for congress in California while, Maad Abu-Ghazalah also made another abortive bid.

 Read More on Elections 2006


The American Muslim & Arab vote in Election 2004

Civil rights was the major issue in 2000 presidential election when the American Muslim community voted virtually en bloc for George Bush. Ironically, four years later, civil rights remained the most significant issue for the Muslims who this time voted overwhelmingly for Senator John Kerry. An exit poll, on Nov. 4, 2004, by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicated that more than 90 percent of Muslim voters were casting their ballots for John Kerry. In a democratic system vote is the best instrument to express one’s opinion. And Muslims joined millions of citizens to express their opinion about the Bush administration policies.

Muslim vote for a Democratic candidate is not new. In 1996, they voted for Democratic President Bill Clinton. According to Zogby Polls, more than 50 percent of Muslims were voting for Democratic Party in nineties with only 16 percent committed to Republican Party. The first time Muslims tried to use bloc vote at the national level was in 2000. Traditionally, Arab-Americans and U.S. Muslims vote in large numbers. An estimated 79 percent are registered, and 85 percent of those say they vote, according to a 2001 poll taken on behalf of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

As the American Muslim community grows, it is becoming increasingly aware of its social and political potential. American Muslims have distinct views on issues such as abortion, prayer in public schools, welfare reform, immigration, and civil rights. They seek to promote family values, prevent crime, combat drug abuse, and encourage other worthwhile social goals but it will not be an exaggeration to say that abridgement of civil rights was the single issue that galvanized the Muslim and Arab community. A barrage of post 9/11 discriminatory policies impacted them. This is not to say that the Muslims and Arabs were not concerned with other election issues. But obviously all communities are motivated by the issues that affect them most. A Democratic Presidential hopeful, Dennis Kucinich best reflected their sentiments when he said during a visit to a Florida Mosque: “The defining issue for Muslims is the restriction of civil liberties.''

However, in this election, the American Muslim and Arab organizations played very little role in motivating the voters who from the very beginning of the campaign were seen to concentrate mainly on the civil rights issue because they were affected by the biased policies of the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11.

The civil rights issue even overshadowed the Middle East problem and the Muslims and Arabs supported Senator Kerry despite their reservations about his support toward Israel.

Besides becoming the most important election issue, the abridgment of the civil rights proved an important factor in motivating the American Muslims and Arabs for political activism. American Muslims have increased their participation in political and social activities since 9/11, according to a poll released on Sept. 10, 2003 by the Council of American-Islamic Relations. The poll said that roughly half of American Muslims surveyed say they have increased their social (58 percent), political (45 percent), inter-faith (52 percent) and public relations activities (59 percent) since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Read More on Elections 2004


Few Muslim candidates in November 2002 elections

Encouraged by the 2000 bloc vote, the American Muslim organizations charted an ambitious plan to launch a massive registration campaign to register Muslim voters and contest at least 200 seats in 2002 mid term elections. However, after the 9/11 tragic attacks the Muslim community found itself besieged by profiling, official discrimination, negative media campaign and hate crimes.

Consequently, the number of Muslim candidates in November 2002 elections was much smaller as compared to the 2000 elections. In 2000, 152 candidates for various public offices were elected out of about 700 candidates. In 2002, ten candidates out of about 70 elected to various public offices which include one State Senator and three State Assemblymen and one judge of the Superior Court.

Read More on Elections 2002


American Muslim bloc vote in 2000 elections

American Muslims made history in 2000 presidential elections when they voted en bloc for George Bush. The American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC), a coalition of four major American Muslim organizations, only two weeks before the election announced its endorsement of George W. Bush for president, citing his outreach to the Muslim community and his stand on the issue of secret evidence.

In a post-election survey of American Muslim voters conducted by the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the nation’s largest grassroots Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups, nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated that they had voted for Texas Governor Bush. Of these, 85 percent noted that the endorsement of Bush by the American Muslim Political Coordinating Committee Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC) was a factor in their vote. In this survey of 1,774 voters, 72 percent of Muslim respondents said they voted for Bush, 19 percent supported Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, and only 8 percent favored Vice President Al Gore. Muslims, therefore, became the only bloc vote for Bush.

The former Congressman, Paul Findley, in his book Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam, estimates that about 3.2 million Muslims turned out for vote and 65 percent voted for President Bush. Mr. Findley said: The importance of Muslim bloc voting arises from its magnitude as well as its focus. Best estimates put the national Muslim population at seven million, 70 as the percentage of those eligible to vote, and 65 as the percentage of those eligible who actually voted. This means that the national turnout of Muslims on Nov.7 came to 3.2 million.

About 700 Muslim Americans ran for various local, state and federal offices in the 2000 elections. At least 152 of them were elected to local and state offices. These individuals were elected as members of precinct committees, delegates to Democratic and Republican party conventions, city councils, state assemblies, state senates, and judgeships. Ninety-two of these were elected from Texas.

Elections 1996/2000


American Muslim Political Activism

Although the population of Muslims in America increased substantially by the 1970s because of massive immigration from the Middle East and South Asia but the new Muslim immigrants showed little interest in domestic issues. Instead, their focus remained on their homelands and U.S. foreign policy issues affecting the Islamic world such as the Palestine-Israel conflict; U.S. sanctions against Iraq; and conflicts in Kashmir and Chechnya. Their community activities were confined to the building of mosques and Islamic centers. African American Muslims, on the other hand, generally tend to focus on domestic issues, such as urban development, education, and economic and racial justice. Given their disparate interests and priorities, formulating a united political platform between the two Muslim groups was not easy.

In the 1980s, as the Muslim Americans began to take the initial steps toward political participation, some questioned whether Islam even permitted them to participate in the political life of a non-Muslim country. That concern all but disappeared starting in the 1990s. Today this debate has taken a back seat as the majority of Muslim-Americans face the political reality that non-participation could lead to exclusion and denial of rights. More details