In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate: You Muslims better vote this election!
Muslim Americans across the country this Friday will be hearing words to that effect as part of the “My Muslim Vote Khutba Day.” This first of its kind national initiative is intended to deliver “a message about the importance of voting in this election—and making the story of our political power heard loud and clear.”
That screaming sound you might be hearing is from Trump supporters! The idea that Muslim Americans could tip the election in swing states with large Muslim populations such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan has to freak them out. And this will upset them even more: It’s expected that Muslims will vote in big numbers. As Linda Sarsour, one of the people spearheading this effort explained, this year “the Muslim vote will be unprecedented.”
Before Fox News or Trump tells you otherwise, this project was not conceived by Huma Abedin. Nor is it some sinister plot to stealthily impose sharia law via the ballot box. Rather this effort is being spearheaded by “My Muslim Vote,” a nonpartisan organization that is “focused on uplifting the voices of Muslim voters in the 2016 election cycle.”
The materials for this project even include a sample Khutba (which is simply a sermon) titled “On the obligation of Muslims to vote” that clerics or lay people can deliver this Friday during prayer services. (For those unaware, Friday is the big day of worship for Muslims, akin to Sunday for Christians and Saturday for Jews.) This sermon seeks to appeal to Muslims by invoking Islamic principles to inspire Muslims to become active in American politics with lines like, “It is not sufficient for us as a community to simply pray, fast, perform hajj, and to concern ourselves with ourselves and our worship, while ignoring that which is around us. We have to be engaged …We should not sit idly by when we see wrong.”
The reality is that Muslim Americans have increasingly becoming involved in politics in recent years—and for good reason. We have seen numerous Republican politicians demonize Muslims for political gain, with Trump taking it to new despicable levels. We have also seen efforts to deprive us of our constitutional rights from calls for religious profiling in violation of the Fourth Amendment to making it nearly impossible to build new places of worship in violation of the First Amendment.
But the effort to encourage Muslims Americans to become active in politics is being taken to the next level this election. This fall various American Muslim groups engaged in very visible voter registration drives, such as Emerge USA, The Council on American-Islamic Relations and MPower Change. And now with this Khutba project, it’s going a step further.
It’s no different than the path taken by other minority communities who became engaged in politics to counter attempts to marginalize them. Being the son of an Italian Catholic mother and a Palestinian Muslim father, I’m keenly aware of how bigotry has been used against minority faiths in the past. My Catholic grandparents and others in their community were demonized and discriminated against simply for their faith in the early 1900’s. And even as late as 1960 when John F. Kennedy ran for President some alleged (loudly) that as a Catholic he would not be loyal to the United States but rather would take orders from the Pope.
But as Catholics became more involved in politics they empowered themselves to effectively counter this narrative. We have come so far that no one even hints that Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine – a devout Catholic – might be less loyal to American because of his faith.
The success of other minority faith communities overcoming hate from Jews to Catholics gives us hope as well as a template to follow. As Sarsour noted, “We have historically seen the use of pulpits of churches to build political power of communities, and now Muslims are participating in similar ways.”
And Ahmed Bedier, the president of United Voices for America and one of the people who will deliver a sermon Friday as part of this initiative, believes that “the only way we will stop the avalanche of anti-Muslim bigotry and the scapegoating of our communities is by voting in large numbers and getting involved in the political process.” I couldn’t agree more.
Some may be surprised to learn that it’s not just radical right-wingers who oppose American Muslims being involved in American politics—people like Michelle Bachmann and Brietbart.com, alleging that every visible Muslim in American politics is somehow a threat. There are actually some ultra-conservative American Muslims who believe that Muslims should not be involved in democracy or have allegiances to non-Muslims. While I personally have never heard this view, clearly others have, which is why the sample sermon addresses that very issue noting that those arguments are not in any way supported by Islamic principles.
The sample sermon also makes an argument that we hear directed to Americans of all backgrounds: Even one vote matters. The sermon notes that “Muslims have swung elections in the past,” citing the 2000 election where “Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Bush…and delivered Florida to Bush.” The sermon continues with a more recent example: “Similarly, in the recent primaries, Michigan Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Sanders, and hence Bernie Sanders won the Michigan primary due to the Muslim vote.”
This Muslim voter mobilization project in no way endorses any specific candidates. However, the reality is that with few exceptions, Muslims are passionately opposed to Trump given his demonization of our community and other minority groups. And the hope is that by Muslims getting more involved in politics—from voting to raising money to running for office—we will be able to prevent another Trump from ever rising to power again. Inshallah. (God willing.)