Representatives Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Andre Carson from Indiana are currently the only Muslim American members of Congress. But they represent a growing segment of the U.S. population that is often in the spotlight as a result of racial profiling and religious intolerance.
In an effort to seek better representation in Washington, many Muslim American communities across the country are organizing voting drives to ensure those that can vote, have their voices heard in the upcoming midtern elections.
It is a cool and unusually windy evening in the suburban Chicago community of Bridgeview.
Not far from the local mosque, which towers over the homes in this predominately Muslim-American neighborhood, Kuwaiti-born Palestinian Alaa is knocking on doors.
With the November 2 mid term election just days away, Alaa is trying to make sure those who can, vote.
Voting is a right not extended to Alaa. “By 1993 we came to the United States on a visa, I was seven years old, I had no idea what was going on at that age, the visa expired, and we stayed. And we’ve been here ever since 1993,” she said.
Alaa is one of an estimated ten million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States. Because she is not a U.S. citizen, she does not have the right to vote, which fuels her efforts to make sure those who can, exercise that right. “With citizenship comes responsibility, and I feel that it’s very important that we get that out to the Muslim community so they go out and vote,” she said.
On the streets, and on the phone.
Maryam Al-Zoubi of the New American Democracy Project, or NADP, works side by side with Alaa to get out the Muslim-American vote. “I think that voting helps our other neighbors and our other government officials realize that yes, we are Americans, and the xenophobia we have towards Muslims is incorrect,” she said.
Al Zoubi says immigration reform is one issue among many concerns she hears about from registered voters she meets in the Muslim American community. “There are a lot of issues that the Muslim community wants to be heard about – for example Islamaphobia, religious tolerance, racial profiling. What we do is we try to tell our elected officials why we vote, but in a very non-partisan way because we want all our elected officials to respect us and to stand with us.”
In the nearby community of Summit on Chicago’s Southwest side, Reema Ahmad goes one step further. “We are distributing endorsement cards, laying out candidates out who have specifically asked for the support of the Muslim community, have committed themselves to supporting initiatives on behalf of the Muslim community when they are elected to office so we are really bridging that gap,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad is the Director of the recently formed Project Mobilize, which has a goal of eventually fielding Muslim American candidates for office. “This is really the next logical step towards us fulfilling our political aspirations. It’s about developing that potential, ensuring that people who have aspirations to hold public office know how to get into those positions and garner the support they need,” Ahmad said.
But Gerald Hankerson with the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago says many in the Muslim American community remain divided on the impact of their vote. “Even with the election cycle there is much argument and debate whether Muslims should be involved. One way or another we are living here, and our life is being impacted by whether or not we decide to offer our voice and our balance. So most definitely religion may factor into it on certain issues, such as immigration reform, such as protecting first amendment rights, because we definitely want to see that our faith is not impeded for us to be truly considered Americans,” he said.
There are approximately half a million Muslim Americans living in the greater Chicago area. In the city’s upcoming elections in 2011, one Muslim American candidate is on the ballot. Ahmed Khan is running for Alderman in Chicago’s 50th Ward.