Political Activity of Muslims
Steve A. Johnson
Islam has become an American religion. Recent estimates of the number of Muslims in America range from 2 million to 8 million, with the most reliable 1986 estimate being approximately 4.7 million. 1 The first major wave of Muslims emigrating from the Middle East to the United States began between 1875 and World War I. This was followed by second and third waves of immigration between the 1920s and World War II, and 1947 and the mid‐ 1960s, respectively. 2 A recent study reports that "relative to the total number of all immigrants entering the U.S., the number of Muslim immigrants has nearly doubled over the last two decades...." 3 However, despite the growing number of Muslim immigrants attaining U.S. citizenship, and the fact that nearly 30 percent of all Muslims in the United States are indigenous American citizens, as a group Muslims remain essentially a political nonentity.
This study is an initial investigation, albeit sketchy, into the political activity of Muslims in America. It describes two independent spheres of political activity, the political activity between Muslim groups in America and the current political activity of Muslims vis-à-vis the larger non-Muslim American society.
On December 6, 1986, the Planning Committee of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) held a public hearing in Plainfield, Indiana, in an attempt to identify what a broad cross-section of Muslims in America viewed as strategic priorities for Muslims in the next decade. The report submitted by that committee noted six priorities, including community development, which was further subdivided into political, legal, and social action. The section of the report on political action is brief but important:
In order to exert influence on the political decision-making [sic] and legislation in North America, ISNA should launch a campaign to educate Muslim citizens about their voting rights and mobilize them to vote on issues affecting Islam and Muslims. On a longer term basis, ISNA should develop communication with and among politically active Muslims and establish a separate political organization in due course. 4