By Nihad Awad
This Fourth of July weekend, friends and families around the country will gather together to celebrate the freedoms we cherish as Americans, those for which countless generations have struggled and sacrificed so much.
We celebrate our freedom from oppression, freedom to practice our religion, representation in our government, and self-determination.
Yet as recent events targeting African-Americans have made abundantly clear, we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality under the flag we will fly high this weekend.
The terror attack on an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the abuse of African-American teens by a police officer in McKinney, Texas, and police-involved shootings and mistreatment of men, women, and children of color across our nation point to the lingering structural racism in our society. These troubling incidents must be honestly addressed before we can truly be the nation President Abraham Lincoln described as "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
It's election season. That means over the last several months, you've been inundated with ads from candidates who've collectively spent hundreds of millions of dollars vying for your vote.
If that makes you feel special, it should. Clearly, your vote matters.
Yet the results of CAIR's recent survey of Muslim voters indicate that less than 70% of registered Muslim voters will head to the polls this year. While that number is an improvement over Muslims' participation in past elections, we can do much better.
Many American Muslims who don't vote may say it's for one or more of the following reasons.
No one can blame you for feeling this way. But remember: the most effective way to change policies and affect problems like Islamophobia is by speaking out against them. Your vote is your voice.
By voting for the candidate whose views are most in line with yours, you are establishing yourself as someone who has invested in their career as a politician. It gives you credibility to make your concerns a priority for legislators. This makes you a stakeholder and ensures that you have a seat at the table.
Elected officials are public servants. They have an obligation to meet with their constituents and to listen to concerns, but they will prioritize the thoughts and opinions of people who go to the polls and cast their ballots.
If their position on one issue conflicts with yours, let them know how you feel. Build support for your position by mobilizing your friends and community. Organize grassroots campaigns. Launch petitions via sites like www.change.org. Whatever you do, don't remain silent and do nothing.
The best voter is an educated and informed voter. Rather than becoming discouraged, learn about the candidates' positions on issues that matter to you.
Many organizations publish candidate scorecards that grade each candidate on their positions on important issues. Familiarize yourself with candidates' positions on issues that are important to you and learn what issues or causes they've supported in the past. Find out where candidates will be speaking and attend so you can listen to them speak firsthand or even ask them questions.
Research and watch past speeches and media appearances. Have they authored books or written articles? Reading these can help provide deeper insight on their views. Most importantly, the best way to learn is by asking questions. Speak with the leadership of your local mosque or another organization to organize a candidate forum.
Each state has a state board of elections whose website contains important information on the application process such as requirements to register to vote and important deadlines. The deadline to register to vote on November 4 is nearing or has already passed in most states.
If you are too late to register this election season, register now so you'll be prepared for the next election. And you can still make a difference by volunteering to be an election judge, volunteering for candidate campaigns, encouraging your friends and family who are registered voters to cast their ballots, and by helping to provide transportation to polling stations for the elderly and disabled.
If you have trouble physically getting to the polls, there are other solutions. CAIR encourages people to carpool to and from the polling stations. Carpooling helps more people to vote in greater numbers, is more environmentally friendly, and provides transportation for people who otherwise may not be able to make it out.
Contact your local mosque to find out if arrangements are being or can be made to transport congregants to the polls. Call your state board of elections and find out what kind of transportation services they are providing and in what areas. Ask a family member, neighbor, friend or colleague if they would mind giving you a ride. Many cities provide free transportation to and from polling stations for the elderly and physically disabled.
Correction: It does! There's power in numbers. Never doubt the impact of a single vote, especially in critical battleground states where the Muslim vote has the potential to play a key role. Not only is voting your constitutional right, it is also your voice. It's a way to express your views.
If you don't vote, you allow others who do to affect decisions on important issues like the economy, healthcare and education -- and you may like the outcome even less. The next generation is depending on you to make important decisions that affect their future. One way to do your part to secure your children's future is to vote in their best interests.
County and statewide elections stand to have a greater impact on an individual level. The role you play and the decision you make in whether to vote will be instrumental in deciding the direction of our collective future. Don't sit this ride out -- buckle up and head to the polls on November 4 to make your voice count.
By Robert S. McCaw
The Fourth of July is a time when we come together as a nation to celebrate our independence and political freedoms. This Independence Day, I will be joining my family in a small coastal town just south of Boston to show off my newborn son and enjoy a traditional halal barbeque and lobster clambake.
I will also be observing Ramadan, a month of spiritual reflection marked by fasting and appreciating the blessings God has provided my family, community and nation. On this day, the American Muslim iftar, or fast-breaking meal, will be accompanied by neighborhood barbeques, sweet dates and fireworks.
I will not take my independence and freedom for granted. I will thank my maternal grandfather and great uncle, who joined the U.S. Coast Guard and Marines respectively, for their service during the Korean War. I will remember my paternal grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator during World War II and the Korean War, my father and paternal uncle who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and send a note of appreciation to my cousin who currently serves as a command sergeant major in the Army.
While my family eats together, we'll surely be listening to the Boston Pops on the radio and hearing the distant roar as spectacular city fireworks are met with local neighborhood firecrackers. That day, we will be celebrating America as much as our ties to each other.
My family is a reflection of America's religious and politically diversity. Politics aside, my mother is Methodist, my aunt is Universal Unitarian, my grandfather is Episcopalian, my mother's cousins are Jewish, and my wife, son and I are Muslim.
My great grandmother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants who became the matriarch of a sprawling New England family, would often sit on the porch during such celebrations and smile to herself with a sense of great pride while gazing at the diversity of her linage.
As Americans, we each have a personal story for how we have come to express ourselves as patriots and how we celebrate our hard-won freedoms. From the Declaration of Independence, through wars and struggles for equality and civil rights and acknowledging our diversity as a source of national strength, celebrating the Fourth of July is a reminder of who we were and what we have all become: American.
Robert S. McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, April 29, interfaith leaders and community members gathered at the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls, Minn., for a community dialogue on "Tolerance and the Fear of Islam." The event was organized after community leaders and activists considered the negative impact a speech by an anti-Muslim speaker had in the same community last year.
Approximately one-third of the audience consisted of individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims – and they came prepared with their Islamophobic books. They handed out hate-filled flyers and started heckling, but eventually they started to listen.
CAIR-MN Brings Dialogue on Tolerance to Little Falls
CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Saly Abd Alla presented first, when the crowd was the most hostile. She spoke about the history of religious intolerance in America and provided some much-needed context and education. The heckling gradually diminished as her presentation went on.
Then CAIR-MN Outreach Director Jaylani Hussein presented on Islam 101. His Quran recitation was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed. I could see that, whether they wanted to admit it or not, the recitation touched some of the individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims- to the point that they were bowing their heads down. He did a great job in making connections to things community members could relate to like sports and winter weather, and showed everyone how normal Muslims are.
Lastly, Father Virgil Petermeier of the St. Cloud Muslim-Christian Dialogue spoke about his positive experiences living with Muslims in Indonesia for 36 years. He told the story of when the monastery was burned to the ground, the Muslims in their community helped rebuild it. He said how when a senior pastor fell ill, a Muslim woman doctor drove two hours while she was fasting and saved the pastor's life. He said how Muslim students attended the Catholic school and demonstrated how the local imam, Baba Haji, greeted him with both arms raised whenever he saw him. These stories were imperative in countering all the negative stories of Christian-Muslim relations some people had heard.
The Q&A was respectful and organized, thanks to the efforts of moderator Kevin LaNave, director of the Center for Learning Services and Social Change. Attendees asked real questions they have about Islam and Muslims and the panelists openly and honestly answered them.
After the event, many people stayed back. Some of the same people who had been distributing hateful flyers at the beginning of the event were now talking to us. They were asking questions.
My most memorable moment from the evening was at the very end. The host of the Little Falls Dialogue had told us that he was fielding hate calls all week. Some people were trying to intimidate him into cancelling the event. There was one call that stood out to him - it was from one of his donors. The individual said that he would withdraw his donation if this event took place. The host politely told him that he was sorry to lose the donation, but that the event would go on as scheduled. He was not going to cancel it. When the event was finished and we were all walking out together, a Muslim stopped the host and said, "You may have lost one donor for holding this event, but you gained another one,"- and handed him a personal check.
This event won't change everyone, but I saw firsthand how many people changed. Most people had never met a Muslim, let alone sat and listened to them talk for two hours. What a wonderful world this could be if everyone just listened - even if it's for two hours in a convent in Little Falls, Minnesota.
Event sponsors included: Little Falls Partners for Peace, Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace, Building Blocks of Islam, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). It was hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls at the St. Francis Convent.
After a recent interview with a New York Post reporter, I wondered aloud to colleagues about how my remarks would be distorted, given the obvious Islamophobic slant of the questions asked. ("'Who Cares' If US Terrorists in Kenya Mall Siege," NY Post, 9/24/13) Well, now I know.
My clear repudiation of all forms of terrorism and religious extremism was turned on its head to falsely imply that I do not care if Americans took part in the horrific terror attack on the shopping mall in Kenya. In fact, the article itself quotes me stating that "terrorism is terrorism" and should be condemned no matter the national origin of the perpetrators.
As I stated clearly -- clearly that is to anyone without a pre-determined anti-Muslim agenda -- "The American Muslim community has repeatedly and consistently condemned all acts of terrorism, in whatever form they take and wherever they occur."
Agenda-driven distortions by biased journalists are unworthy of any media outlet that wishes to be viewed as credible, especially when reporting on such an important subject.
Ibrahim Hooper is the national communications director for CAIR.
Earlier this week a controversy erupted in the Tennessee State Capitol. Apparently, multiple state law makers were concerned about the possible nefarious uses of a new floor level sink in a men's restroom. They were worried that it might be used by American Muslims as a place to wash their feet before praying.
To assure those lawmakers that Tennessee was not, in fact, making any allowance for American Muslims, Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley sent the following in an email to lawmakers: "I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men's restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use. It is, in layman's terms, a mop sink."
Yes, a mop sink.
Stephen Colbert continued the urgent mop sink investigation in a segment of his show Wednesday night, saying: "Think about it: A mop is nothing but a beard on a stick."
But with that major issue quelled, another example of "Creeping Sharia" emerged. In an op-ed in Tuesday's Washington Times (the far smaller and more conservative competitor to the Washington Post), noted Islamophobe Frank Gaffney expressed his concerns with Obama's new for Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.
Since 2009 Perez has been Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United Sates Department of Justice. Before that he was appointed by Maryland's Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley to as Secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Not surprisingly, Perez's prior accomplishments and experience don't matter to Gaffney. What matters to him is Perez's literal embrace of an American Muslim leader. You see, in 2011, Perez hugged the imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Imam Mohamed Magid.
Never mind that Imam Magid served on the Department of Justice's Countering Violent Extremism Working Group or that he's the president of a respected Muslim organization; he's a Muslim and no one in government should hug him.
The two examples should be humorous, and they are. But they do show the amount of mistrust that many in power have of Muslims, to the extent that they are truthfully afraid of a mop sink. Those lawmakers in Tennessee probably felt that way because of the misinformation they've been fed from active Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney. These are people who make a living (some of them a very nice living) by feeding fear and attacking Muslims. They spread a vision of the world where a hug is an affront to American ideals and a sink is threatening.
It's up to Americans of all faiths to unite behind an inclusive vision of our future together. We need to come together to speak out against such bigotry, and to laugh when it gets to this level of absurdity.