Non-Fiction Contest Winner - 2011
IWA Member Category
American Muslims, The Vote, and our Future
By: Pamela K. Taylor
For the past six years I have worked the polls each fall and spring, ensuring that every American has the opportunity to vote for their representatives and on issues of importance. This past election approximately 40% of the voters registered in my precinct came to cast their vote – some 400 people. As the day progressed, I noticed that none of them were Muslim. There were Blacks, Latinos, Chinese, Indians (with Hindi names), and other minority groups, but not one Muslim. I checked the register and saw there were many Muslim names on the list – over 30 of them, some of whom I know personally. I was saddened that none of the Muslim voters came out to voice their opinion and exercise their right to choose who would govern them for the next few years. What a stark contrast - much of the Arab world, where men and women have protested en masse, and some even given their lives for the very right our community apparently holds so cheap here in America.
This lack of involvement is made even more sad by the fact that we live in a time when it is acceptable for elected officials and presidential candidates to say the most horrible things about Muslims – that we are all extremists, that we are all secretly devoted to taking down America either through force or through stealth, that we should have no human or civil rights, that we should not be allowed to build mosques in the US, that we should all be deported (not taking into consideration that the majority of us were born here, or are naturalized citizens). If we do not speak out loudly against this kind of rampant bigotry and racism, then we have only ourselves to blame when those speeches become reality. If we do not exercise our right to choose who the next president will be, who represents us in Congress, and who runs our local government, then we have given away the opportunity to make sure that people who say such horrible things about us, and who would condone extreme forms of discrimination against our community never come to power.
We are a small community; this is true. But an analysis of election results in recent years shows that the margins by which many officials come to power are only two or three percentage points, or even less. Presidential elections have been especially close. We may be small, but in these kinds of races were are large enough that we can be the margin that decides whether someone like Cain, who has repeatedly slandered our community, or someone like Obama, who has reached out to the Muslim world with understanding and good will, is elected to be the next President.
Voting also allows us to influence the issues that affect us locally. Voters in my precinct decided whether to expand funding for our school district (which includes the Islamic school, since it is a charter school in the district) and care for those who face mental health issues, whether to negate the federal health insurance mandate and reinstate unions for public employees like teachers and fire fighters, as well as making choices about who will govern our town for the next few years. Obviously, these issues affect us as citizens of the town. They affect the quality of education our children will have, the effectiveness of our public services, and the policies that will be enacted in our town. These officials will be deciding if we can expand our mosque, or build a new wing on our Islamic school. They will make rulings about teachers or students being allowed to wear hijab. They will be the police who respond if an instance of hate crime takes place. It is our duty to at least participate in choosing who will make these decisions, determining who will serve our community.
Obviously, voting is the minimum that we should do. We should also work for those candidates who stand for human and civil rights for all, who oppose blatant Islamophobic discourse, and whose agenda best approximates our Islamic ideals of justice, compassion, and fairness. If we find no candidates that we like, we should write letters to the editor, attend town halls, invite candidates to our mosques to hear what we have to say and to get to know us, participate in demonstrations or get involved in the party of our choice so that eventually we can cultivate or even become the candidates we would like to see. If a Muslim doesn’t feel comfortable working with one of the established parties, there are hundreds and thousands of political organizations working on specific issues that Muslims should care about – racism, bigotry, poverty, torture, human rights abuses, women’s safety in the home, education -- the list goes on and on.
Not only does this kind of engagement help us to have a voice in our future, it also serves as a form of outreach to the greater American community. Interfaith events are great, but they only go so far. In particular, they mostly reach people who already are favorably disposed towards Muslims, or at least have an open mind about our community. Otherwise they would not be at an interfaith event! But political engagement, working on issues of importance to us, brings us into contact with a different set of people. Not only will we encounter people who would never make it to an interfaith event, we are encountering them in a setting where we are working together about an issue that we both care about passionately, forging bonds around shared interests. This sort of community engagement is, in fact, the best dawah possible.
Finally, the Prophet taught us that if we see a wrong we should change it with our hands if we can, next with our voices, or, at the very least to hate it within our hearts. The Qur’an tells us that Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change themselves. If we want the situation of Muslims in this country to change, then we need to take an active role in creating that change. If we see wrongs in this country, then we must take a stand, speaking out about them and working to correct them. Allah does not expect us to be observers in this life, but to be engaged participants. He expects us to be His vicegerents on this earth, not mere spectators.