Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why US Muslim Leaders Want More Muslims to Vote

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why US Muslim Leaders Want More Muslims to Vote

Article excerpt

A campaign that aims to register one million Muslim voters by November is in full swing, as organizers and volunteers canvass college campuses, bus stations, and gas stations in Muslim neighborhoods across the United States.

The "One America" campaign, launched in December and spearheaded by the US Council of Muslim Organizations, is part of a broader effort among American Muslims to increase voter turnout for the 2016 presidential election. If successful, organizers say, the campaign could impact the outcome of the election and give Muslims a more prominent voice in American politics in the future.

Though "One America" does not endorse any specific candidate, leaders say many new voters have registered in response to strategies proposed by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump to combat radical Islam, including a ban on Muslim immigrants to the US.

"We're seeing an energy that is largely motivated by anti-Trump sentiment," said Colin Christopher, the deputy director of government affairs at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Virginia, which has held voter education workshops, to The New York Times.

Since the last presidential election, more than 300,000 Muslims have registered to vote, according to the Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR). As of last month, there are 824,000 registered Muslim voters with traditionally Muslim names in the US, CAIR said, compared to about 500,000 voters in 2012. In a survey conducted shortly before the 2012 election, 91 percent of registered Muslim voters said they intended to vote.

In a Reuters interview, CAIR's executive director, Nihad Awad, attributed the recent growth in political activity among Muslims to an "unprecedented rise in Islamophobia." In the months following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., last year, crimes against Muslim Americans nearly tripled, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

The most effective way to combat anti-Muslim sentiment, advocacy groups say, is to get more Muslims into the voting booth. Campaigners have asked imams to encourage their congregations to register to vote, stood outside mosques to recruit worshippers, and launched a "National Open Mosque Day" to facilitate interactions between Muslims and people of other faiths.

If the campaign is successful, Muslim voters could have a significant impact in key swing states, such as Ohio and Florida, in the November general election.

"Although it is true that American Muslims constitute a small percentage of the national population, they are concentrated in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida," wrote Farid Senzai, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, in the months prior to the 2012 election. …

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