Muslim Americans are a small fraction of our national population, but the political discourse around us seems to echo loudly this election cycle. All three presidential debates this year have included at least one question — or should we say shouting match? — regarding what some like to call “the Islam problem.” The subject matter ranges from terrorism in the Middle East to the refugee crisis to radicalization in the United States.
The irony is that Muslims are not a large enough contingent to really affect election results. Yet both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have ideas about us and our place in American society. One may wonder how large this group is, how powerful politically, how important in terms of voting blocs, to garner such attention. The answer is surprising: we are not many in number, but we are a big aspect of this election.
First of all, Muslims are overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton. This was not true two decades ago. Until George W. Bush, Muslims tended to vote Republican, but the Iraq War and the overall War on Terror, which devastated so many Muslim nations, made us disillusioned with the Republican Party. Add to that the more socially conscious messages of affordable health care, climate change and poverty reduction that the Democratic reduction favors and it’s easy to see why the last decade or two has seen a seismic shift in party affiliation for most Muslims. Last month’s survey by the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) showed that an overwhelming majority (72 percent) of Muslims are planning to vote for Clinton, and another large number (62 percent) think the Republican Party as a whole is unfriendly toward Muslims.
Further, Muslims are unhappy with Donald Trump’s message. Even those of us who leaned Republican earlier have been put off by Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, promises to punish terrorists’ innocent families, surveillance of Muslim communities and equating ISIS with Islam. While some may argue that if elected, Trump will probably not be able to put any of these policies into action, the fact remains that bigotry and hate incidents are growing in our country because of such political rhetoric.
Studies show that Muslims are facing very real consequences from Trump’s words every day in schools, in workplaces and even on the streets. That’s why, according to a 2016 CAIR survey, the biggest issue for Muslims this election year is Islamophobia.
All this has led to real action. Muslims are mobilizing the vote in an unprecedented manner, which is key for a number of reasons. Rather than remain apathetic about the way the political candidates are using the “Islam problem” to their political advantage, Muslims in America have decided that we will be part of the change that we wish to see in our nation.
Several campaigns are working towards this goal, such as the year-long One Million Votes campaign by the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, an umbrella group of two dozen Muslim advocacy organizations. One Million Votes surpassed its goal of registering a million Muslims to vote recently. That may not seem like a lot, in battleground states where Muslims live, it makes a big difference.
Other organizations in this area include Emerge USA, a nonprofit organization for Muslim, South Asian and Arab American (MASA) communities, and MPower Change, a grassroots political movement. MPower Change created the wildly popular hashtag #mymuslimvote, which is galvanizing young people on social media. For a candidate like Clinton who’s struggling with young voters, initiatives like these seem to help, at least among the Muslim and Arab populations. The organization also organized a National Khutba Day (khutba is Arabic for sermon) on Oct. 7, with participation in more than 50 mosques throughout the country, encouraging congregants to vote.
And last, but perhaps most telling, is the brand new American Muslim Women PAC, which endorsed Hillary Clinton and, more important, proved that Muslim women are not silent, oppressed beings like some in our political spectrum claim. Through it, an entire generation of Muslims are becoming more aware of and involved in our political process.
All of this may not be sufficient to sway election results, but Muslims in the United States agree that they cannot sit idly by and watch their political future deteriorate. Wajahat Ali, Muslim American writer extraordinaire, explains in the New York Times this week that Muslims are the “Khizr Khan voters” this year, emboldened in a way by the Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who spoke so passionately against Trump at the Democratic National Convention.
Khizr Khan — or “Uncle Khizr,” as we like to call him – is the epitome of the Muslim American emotional roller coaster these days. No matter what Clinton brings to the table in terms of her hawkish policies in the Middle East, the burning desire of our collective consciousness is to defeat Trump, the candidate who talks about extreme vetting as if it’s actually constitutional.
In an election cycle marked with hate and bigotry, let Muslims lead the way in introducing some positive vibes.