Muslim-Americans say they are more interested than ever before in the political process, in part because their religion has been reduced to a talking point in the presidential campaign.
Like many others in the United States, they have been hurt by a limping economy, a problematic healthcare system and an unclear immigration policy. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also hit close to home.
Fatema Biviji, 32, had never given much thought to politics until she received an e-mail earlier this year that said — falsely — that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim. The Internet hoax, its origin unknown, was apparently intended to tie Obama to terrorism and swing support to his opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain.
“I was so mad,” Biviji said. “The premise of that email is that a person’s religion should decide a person’s character.
“We’re America, the melting pot, the land of diversity, and that Americans would be buying into that psychology [of the e-mails] was upsetting,” said the New Jersey-born Muslim, whose parents are from India. “The e-mail offended my American ideals.”
Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a Christian and emphatically pledged his patriotism.
Biviji began to research Obama and could relate to his international background, his years in Indonesia as a young man, and his father’s Kenyan roots. And his views on the issues aligned with hers.
So she began chatting with members of her community in Irving, Texas, encouraging people to register to vote and become more active. She began blogging about the presidential election and formed a grassroots organization with about 100 members who have helped register dozens of people to vote, she said. Her blog is featured on Obama’s campaign Web site.
But Biviji said it hasn’t always been easy for Muslim-Americans to support candidates who don’t usually seem to support them.
“Neither candidate has visited a mosque,” said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group. “It might not be a gesture that’s the politically right thing to do, but it’s the morally right thing,” Rehab said. CAIR has registered thousands of Muslim voters across the country.
He said he was approached by one of the major parties to run for office this year. But he decided against it.
“If you have one guy [Obama] who has a Muslim father that he really never knew and who isn’t a Muslim being hounded, then imagine a guy like me who works so publicly in support of rights for Muslims,” said Rehab. “I’m not sure I want to go through that.” (MORE)