By Billy Hallowell – Desert News – July 21 2016
Muslim Americans make up around 1 percent of the U.S. population, accounting for about 3.3 million people. But despite constituting such a small sliver of the populace, Muslim advocates are looking to increase their electoral influence.
Consider that the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, an umbrella group of Islamic organizations, has announced a number of initiatives of late, including a voter registration drive called the “Million Voters Registration Drive.”
The organization encourages Muslims via its website to set up voter registration booths and to register themselves to vote in the 2016 election.
“We recommend organizing these booths on a consistent basis in mosques, community events, and other major Muslim gatherings,” the website reads.
According to Reuters, imams have been encouraging increased voting participation, with campaign organizers going to colleges, bus stations and other gathering spots in areas populated by Muslims to try to garner support.
“We want the Muslim community to understand that if you give up your rights voluntarily, no one will come and give it back to you,” Osama Abu Irshaid, a board member of the council, told the outlet.
The get-out-the-vote effort has ramped up amid concern over claims of increased anti-Islamic sentiment after a series of terror attacks at the hands of the Islamic State group, as well as comments about Islam that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made over the past year.
Trump first sparked controversy and concern last year with a proposal to ban all Muslim travel to the U.S.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” read a press release from the Trump campaign, as quoted by CNN.
As CNN noted at the time, Trump had also called for surveillance of mosques and offered somewhat confusing responses when asked about whether the U.S. should keep a database of Muslims.
In a November 2015 “This Week” interview with George Stephanopoulos, however, Trump made his views on the database issue a bit clearer, according to Politifact. While he didn’t rule out a database for all Muslims, he backed keeping one for refugees coming into the U.S.
“I want a database for the refugees that — if they come into the country. We have no idea who these people are,” he said. “When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don’t know if they’re ISIS, we don’t know if it’s a Trojan horse. And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances.”
As for the proposed Muslim ban that has attracted so much scrutiny in recent months, Trump has since changed his language on the issue and is now saying that, rather than a temporary ban, he favors “extreme vetting” of people coming from nations with a history of terror, according to NBC News.
It’s with these events in mind that some Muslim Americans have exercised caution, fearing what might happen under a Trump administration.
“I was thinking quite a long time to register but this time especially,” a Muslim man named Sadat Najmi told Reuters. “I really believed that I have to.”
In addition to the voter initiative, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations held an advocacy day in April aimed at connecting Islamic adherents with members of Congress.
These efforts are part of the organization’s “One America Campaign,” an effort that aims to “‘push back’ against what has become a consistent effort to balkanize U.S. citizens into mutually antagonistic subgroups.”
The campaign seeks to unite Americans of all stripes, while dismissing the “scapegoating” that the organization sees unfolding against American Muslims.
Earlier this summer, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, put out a statement asserting that “more than 300,000 Muslims may have registered to vote since the 2012 presidential election.”
CAIR based this estimate on a national database of voter information that was purchased and analyzed by the group in June 2016 and compared to a similar list that was purchased by the group in 2012.
The organization cited “rhetorical attacks” on the Muslim faith by public figures as one possible reason for the apparent increase in voter registration.
“Knowing that more than 300,000 American Muslims have registered to vote since the last presidential election is a validation of the national and local Muslim community efforts to get out the vote,” said Robert S. McCaw, the group’s government affairs director, in a statement.
CAIR also launched a nonpartisan voter campaign titled “Muslims Vote” this summer in an effort to get American Muslims to engage in the 2016 election by encouraging them to host candidate forums, volunteer or register to vote.
The Trump campaign seemingly attempted to temper concerns on Monday night, with the candidate’s wife, Melania Trump, saying her husband intends to represent “all the people” if elected president.
“Donald intends to represent all the people, not just some of the people,” Melania Trump said. “That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims. It includes Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians — and the poor and the middle-class.”
This isn’t to say that Trump has no Muslim supporters, since Sajid Tarar, founder of the group American Muslims for Trump, delivered a benediction Tuesday at the Republican National Convention.