Muslim-Americans Becoming More Involved in US Politics

04 August, 2016

Sarwat Husain is an American Muslim from Texas. She says people there sometimes look at the hijab she wears over her head. But Husain got more attention than she was used to on a flight to Orlando, Florida. It came from the man who sat next to her on the airplane.

Husain said that after the plane took off, the man said, "If this window was a door, I would have pushed you out." She said she answered, "I would have taken you with me."

She said the man laughed at her answer and said, "Oh, you're so funny!" She answered, "Sir, what you said was not funny at all."

Husain was flying to Florida for a meeting of the Democratic Party's Platform Committee. The meeting was called to finalize plans for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Husain set up the San Antonio office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She also helped create the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, a political organization known as the AMDC. And she has been working with the Democratic Party to help provide better political representation for Muslim-Americans across the country.

Sarwat Husain (left, in green jacket) at the AMDC Luncheon at the Pennsylvania Convention Center during the Democratic National Convention.
Sarwat Husain (left, in green jacket) at the AMDC Luncheon at the Pennsylvania Convention Center during the Democratic National Convention.

The AMDC formed in the years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 to answer the hatred its members believed was directed at Muslim-Americans. The group also wanted to persuade more Muslim-Americans to take part in the political process.

Husain said her recent flight to Orlando showed the need for Muslim-Americans to become more involved and visible in American politics. She believes this will help slow what she believes is an increase in Islamophobia.

After forming in Texas in 2004, the AMDC has expanded to 79 chapters. Husain believes it will continue to grow. She says the group's goal is to increase the number of Muslim-Americans who hold political office.

She admits there are some people who do not want her to succeed. "There are also some people who think having a Muslim will hurt the party," she said.

Husain said another barrier to increased involvement of Muslim-Americans in politics is the challenge of persuading them to vote.

The Pew Research Center estimates 3.3 million Muslims live in the United States. The center predicts the number will double by 2050. Muslims are one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. But many Muslim-Americans who can vote do not.

Tahir Ali works at the American Muslim Alliance. He said the lack of voting is "not the fault of the American government." He said their experience with voting in other countries may be the reason so few Muslims in the United States decide to vote.

"Where they come from the process may not be clean. It may be corrupt; it may be rigged also," he said.

Ali said that is why many Muslim-American immigrants who become U.S. citizens and gain the right to vote do not do so.

"We have to educate them that this process is a very clean process," he said. "We have to educate about the calculation of votes to the youth, to the ladies, so that they can think that it is their right to exercise their vote in order for them to be recognized."

Sarwat Husain said voting is sometimes not important to immigrants.

"Many of the immigrants, they are still trying to settle down, their roots, you know take care of the family, raise their children, because this is an extremely family-oriented society," she said.

The children of immigrants, she says, are beginning to vote. They include people like Noman Khanani.

"Now you are starting to see more second-generation Muslims get a little more involved," said Khanani. "But a lot of them are still around my age, in their mid-twenties, early thirties, so it's still too early to tell, so I think in the next five to ten years, you are going to see more and more of them involved."

Khanani admits it can be difficult to persuade immigrant parents to tell their children that voting is important.

"I don't know how many people actually see this as an urgency," he said. "A lot of immigrant parents tend to push their children towards sciences," and engineering-related subjects rather than politics.

Sarwat Husain saw many young Muslim-Americans at a recent AMDC gathering in Philadelphia. She hopes the next Muslim-American political candidate was among them.

"Being involved in politics is a form of worship in Islam," she said. "The land you live in, you must serve that land at every level in every respect."

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Kane Farabaugh reported this story from Philadelphia. It was adapted for Learning English by Christopher Jones-Cruise. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

hijab – n. a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women

visible – adj. known to or noticed by the public

Islamophobia – n. dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force

chapter – n. the people in a certain area who make up one section of a large organization

challenge – n. a difficult task or problem; something that is hard to do

rig – v. to control or affect (something, such as a game or election) in a dishonest way in order to get a desired result