American Muslims are running in record numbers for office in the upcoming US midterm elections. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has paradoxically encouraged Muslims to be more politically involved in the US.
The US political scene is witnessing an unexpected surge in American Muslim candidates ahead of the upcoming US midterm elections, which are being seen as a testing ground for US President Donald Trump’s controversial policies, from anti-migration stances to an America-first foreign policy agenda.
Nearly 100 Muslim-American candidates, six times more than in the 2016 elections, are running for office. It comes at a time when Islamophobia has significantly increased under the Trump presidency, which has advocated a registration system for the country’s Muslim immigrants.
Experts and political operators believe the recent American Muslim political assertiveness is a reaction to increasing anti-Muslim attitudes, emboldened by the sitting US president who openly defended “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US”
“It woke everyone up,” Fayaz Nawabi, who is running for San Diego city council, told the Washington Post.
“When you put someone in a corner and they’re in survival mode, they have a tendency to come out and speak more prominently about their beliefs,” added Nawabi, explaining what he believes are the roots of this recent Muslim American political activism.
For decades, America’s 3.3 million-strong Muslim community has generally chosen to stay silent about US politics and Washington’s foreign policy, partly because most US Muslims have their origins in countries where political activism could be met with harsh crackdowns and even jail time.
However, before Trump, there was already a growing trend towards American Muslim political awareness following the September 11 attacks, which made American Muslim political pacifism confront the rise of Islamophobia in the US.
"Before September 11, Muslims [most of them] were living here physically, [but] mentally and spiritually they were living back home," said Zahid Bukhari, who is leading the Council for Social Justice at the Islamic Circle of North America.
That approach ended with the September 11 attacks, Bukhari observed.
The September 11 attacks, which were a turning point for both US relations with the larger Muslim world and American Muslim relations with the US, apparently convinced young Muslims that they cannot avoid racist tirades and discrimination by staying out of the political sphere.
James Zogby, a prominent Arab American political activist and pollster, believes that same young generation is now “ready” to seek its own chance in US politics.
With the Trump presidency, American Muslim political pacifism has been radically shifted once again by his aggressive rhetoric against Islam and Muslims, instilling fear across Muslim communities that their lives in the US could be in danger.
Following the 2016 midterm elections, a poll showed that more than half of American Muslims felt insecure in the US.
Faced by Trump and his allies, American Muslims began recognising that political representation matters in terms of both protecting their identity and ensuring their integration.
“They cannot continue to instil fear in us and stop us from achieving critical conversations,” said Ilhan Omar, an American Muslim politician from Minnesota, where she managed to be elected as the first Somali-American state representative.
Now polls show that if she is elected in the upcoming midterm elections, she will also mark another milestone by being the first female Somali-American representative ever elected to the US Congress.
But Omar has a fierce competitor for the claim to be the first American Muslim congresswoman.
In Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, a former Palestinian-American state legislator, will also compete to be the first female American Muslim representative in Washington.
“I always tell people that I’m exposing Islam in such a pivotal way, an impactful way, through public service,” Omar told NYT, a reminder that Islam is a religion which asserts public responsibility.
“A huge part of the Islamic faith is that you can’t sleep with a full belly if your neighbours and those around you aren’t sleeping with a full belly.”
According to a verse from the Quran: “You are the best people ever raised for the good of mankind because you have been raised to serve others.”
Even if not for the upcoming elections, the new dynamics of Muslim assertiveness will have a lasting effect and could in the future change the Muslim underrepresentation in the US Congress, where there are currently just two Muslim representatives out of 535 seats.
“The American Dream cannot end with you,” tweeted Abdul el Sayed, who unsuccessfully ran for the Michigan governorship as “an unapologetic proud Muslim”, just like Nawabi.
Don't tell me about how your forefathers came to this country with nothing, and built a life while you're trying to stop others from doing the same.— Abdul El-Sayed (@AbdulElSayed) November 1, 2018
The #AmericanDream cannot end with you.