It was a packed room Thursday on the first floor of the building that houses the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and even though the air conditioner was running full blast, it hardly made a dent in the conversational heat generated by the 50 up-and-coming Muslim-American leaders gathered to network with Hill staffers and snack on pizza.
The event, at the CAIR headquarters on New Jersey Avenue Southeast, was part of a four-day leadership summit hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which works to encourage the political and civic participation of Muslim-Americans. All present shared a passion for American politics and a desire to have the Muslim-American voice heard in the U.S. political system.
“I am showing that I am a Muslim and I am participating in the political arena,” said Aidan Ali-Sullivan, one of 25 participants in the National Muslim American Young Leaders Summit.
Before arriving at the luncheon, summit participants spent the morning meeting with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and were scheduled to meet with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) after the luncheon. Later that night, the group attended a banquet at the Hyatt Regency, where Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, was honored as the keynote speaker.
“Meeting these Congressmen is as close up as you can get to a one-on-one conversation,” summit participant Shabbir Chaudhury said. “They really listen to our views.”
Over the course of the four-day summit, the participants also took part in an interagency meeting with representatives from the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury and Justice, attended an interfaith panel and met with public opinion experts at the Gallup organization.
Summit participants ranged in age from 17 to 28, but they all shared an interest in American politics and a desire to have their voices as Muslim-Americans heard.
“This is a very diverse nation,” summit participant Erum Ibrahim said. “I want to engage that diversity and put more of a value in multiculturalism and religious pluralism.”
Ibrahim and her fellow summit participants were joined at the networking event by interns from the CAIR and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, as well as Muslim-American Hill interns.
Adult representatives from all three groups spoke at the luncheon, stressing the importance of networking and strengthening the faint Muslim-American voice in politics and Congress in particular. Out of the thousands of staffers on Capitol Hill, only about 35 are Muslim, according to J. Saleb Williams, legislative assistant for Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and active member of the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association.
“We need more of you on the Hill,” Williams said to the crowd of young people.
Corey Saylor, the national legislative director for CAIR — which keeps a presence on Capitol Hill — had a similar message for the Muslim-American youth.
“What we need you to do is consider jobs in journalism and public affairs,” Saylor said. “We have a lot to add to the political dialogue in this country. We just aren’t there yet.” (MORE)