Do Muslim Americans have the power to tip the U.S. election in swing states? An unprecedented campaign called #MyMuslimVote thinks so, and is urging the community to vote.
“#MyMuslimVote … is focused on building grassroots Muslim political power and amplifying an authentic narrative of Muslim communities,” said Mohammad Khan, campaign manager at Muslim advocacy organization MPower Change, which launched the campaign. "There has been a lot of attention focused on Muslims to the point where it almost seems like we're being used as a political football.”
— Nahela Morales (@NahelaMorales) October 19, 2016
As of 2015, there were 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, which is 1% of the total population, according to Pew. This number may seem small, but it’s projected to double to 2% by 2050. Meanwhile, in the 11 swing states, Muslims make up around 1% or less than 1% of the total state population.
In addition to its hashtag campaign, MPower Change organized National Khutba Day, a nonpartisan event on Oct. 7 that encouraged Muslim Americans to vote (a khutba is a sermon that an imam delivers during Friday prayer). Nearly 50 sermons were held at mosques across 17 states, including the key battleground states of Florida and Ohio. During the sermons, imams urged Muslim Americans to register and vote, but didn’t tell anyone who to vote for.
Mosques can’t be partisan because houses of worship are 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, so they’re prohibited from supporting or opposing specific candidates, according to Khan.
At a National Khutba Day event in Ohio, the imam Tarek El-Messidi broadcasted his sermon via Facebook Live, attracting nearly 7,000 viewers at one point. El-Messidi told stories from the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s life to encourage Muslim Americans to be active in civic engagement, and to vote in swing states like Ohio.
He reminded attendees that Republican President George W. Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes in 2000, and that Muslim-Americans could be the deciding factor in this election: “You are in an important state—Ohio is the state that everyone is watching closely.”
El-Messidi then referenced a 2016 Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) report that suggested Muslims are the least likely faith group to be politically engaged, with only 60% of those of legal voting age registered to do so, compared to at least 86% of Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. In addition, around 15% of Muslims who are able to vote don’t plan to vote in the upcoming Nov. 8 election—the largest of any group, according to the ISPU.
El-Messidi acknowledged that both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump “are not angels,” but concluded by asking Muslim Americans to “make a moral choice on Election Day.”
For his part, MPower Change’s Khan expects there to be a “historic Muslim voter turnout on Nov. 8,” and his group is continuing to mobilize voters until then. After the election, Khan said he plans to work with community partners to create a set of policy demands for the new administration.
For instance, Muslim Americans identify Islamophobia as a major concern and priority for the next president, the ISPU revealed. Indeed, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported an “unprecedented spike” in anti-Muslim hate crimes “attributed at least in part to statements and policy proposals made by public figures like GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and others.” A May report from Georgetown University confirmed CAIR’s statement, revealing that there were 53 Islamophobic attacks in December 2015. In comparison, nine month earlier when the presidential election season started, there were only two such attacks.
Islamophobic hate crimes happen largely because Muslim Americans have been linked to terrorism and extremism throughout this election season. During the presidential debates, both Clinton and Trump urged community members to “be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines” and “report when they see something going on.”
But critics say this kind of messaging perpetuates a double standard.
"Why are we presumed to be terrorists or the friends or neighbors or cousins of terrorists when, in fact, Muslims are the biggest victims of terror worldwide?" my colleague Yasmin Nouh said in a recent Fusion video. “We don’t tell young white men to be our eyes and ears in the fight against mass shootings."
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."