SEE ALSO: CAIR 2008 Election
America's Muslims aren't married to either political party. They are looking for a presidential candidate who is willing to deliver to a community whose faith is too often used by political strategists to fan the flames of fear.
In 2000, a national Muslim umbrella group endorsed Republican George W. Bush for president. In 2004, the endorsement went to Democrat John Kerry. Exit polls conducted in the crucial battleground states of Florida and Ohio showed 95 percent and 86 percent respectively of Muslim voters casting their ballot for Kerry.
Studies of American Muslim voters conducted by The Pew Research Center (in 2007) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (in 2006 and 2008) reveal an interest in issues common to many Americans and a strong shift in political allegiance.
Muslims are highly concerned about education, civil rights and liberties in America, health care policies, jobs and the economy, relations with the Muslim world and immigration. Muslims also believe that anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is a serious problem, and that anti-Muslim prejudice in our nation is a threat to American Muslims.
Interestingly, a large majority of the community is more conservative than the general American public, with 59 percent believing the government should do more to protect morality in society.
In the past, Muslims traditionally leaned Republican after finding a common set of ethical values, such as opposition to abortion. Today, Muslims are 49 percent Democrat, 36 percent independent and 8 percent Republican. This shift away from the GOP has been precipitous. As recently as 2006, a full 17 percent of Muslims self-identified as Republican.
So who will Muslims vote for this November? As we say, "Allahu Alim,” God knows best.
Sen. Obama is the only current presidential candidate known to have had a one-on-one meeting with an American Muslim leader during this election cycle. Many Muslims empathize with him as he is attacked for being "Muslim,” which is erroneous since he is Christian. However, many were concerned when he recently told American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference attendees, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Current U.S. policy does not recognize Israel's claim to the city, the eastern part of which is occupied territory according to international law.
Muslim groups recently welcomed Sen. McCain's decision to reject the endorsement of Rod Parsley, pastor of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, Ohio, who has referred to Islam as an "anti-Christ religion” and has expressed support for "seeing this false religion (Islam) destroyed.” Muslims also welcomed McCain's October 2007 comments, "I admire Islam. There's a lot of good principles in it.” They were less sure when moments later he added that despite this positive impression, he would prefer a Christian as president.
America's Muslims as an organized community are new to our national political dialogue, but they already know that a smile and a photograph are easy to get from any politician. What they are looking for is substantive delivery on promises made.
Hashmi is executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.