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US Muslims Gaining Political Ground

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    Although Md. Delegate-Elect Doesn t Trumpet Faith, His Win Signals New Surge More Muslims Gaining Political Ground By Michelle Boorstein Washington Post Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2006
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      Although Md. Delegate-Elect Doesn't Trumpet Faith, His Win Signals New

      More Muslims Gaining Political Ground
      By Michelle Boorstein
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Thursday, November 30, 2006; A01

      Since Gaithersburg software engineer Saqib Ali was elected to the
      Maryland House of Delegates this month, he has been flooded with calls
      and e-mails from across the country asking: How'd you do it?

      The calls come from American Muslims like Ali, who, longtime political
      watchers and Muslim activists in the area say, is the first Muslim
      elected to a statewide -- or districtwide -- office in Maryland,
      Virginia or the District.

      Although the 31-year-old made little of his faith during the campaign
      -- in fact, he bucked those who said he should put it on his campaign
      literature -- he is part of a concerted march of Muslims into civic
      and political life. His campaign was part of a push that began after
      Sept. 11, 2001, with worries about civil liberties and immigration
      policy and has blossomed this year.

      Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected
      to Congress. In the D.C. area, eight Muslims ran for office in
      Maryland this year, significantly more than in previous years,
      although only Ali won. And initial polling data and anecdotal evidence
      suggest that significantly more Muslims in Virginia registered and
      voted this month than in previous elections.

      According to data gathered by the Muslim American Society and the
      Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, the number of Virginia
      Muslims who voted was up 13 percent from 2005. The vast majority of
      the estimated 51,000 Muslims who cast ballots in Virginia voted for

      There are no statistics from previous years on Muslim voters in
      Maryland, but according to a post-election poll done by the Muslim
      American Society and the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee,
      there are about 50,000 Muslim voters in Maryland, three-quarters of
      whom voted Nov. 7. A large majority voted for Democrats, the groups'
      data show. The Virginia Muslim PAC is gathering voting data throughout
      the country.

      Data collection on U.S. Muslims is relatively new and imprecise, and
      even estimates of the community's size range from 1 million to 7
      million. However, the available data mirror what activists and
      scholars of U.S. Islam say is indicated in anecdotal evidence: Muslims
      are quickly moving into the public sphere.

      "It's very obvious that there is more involvement," said Zahid H.
      Bukhari, director of Georgetown University's Project MAPS, a long-term
      research project on American Muslims that estimates there are 1.5
      million to 2 million registered American Muslim voters. "More Muslims
      are running for office; Islamic centers are becoming more of community
      centers; everybody is much more involved," Bukhari said.

      Ali, whose parents were born in India and Pakistan, said he comes
      "from a family where they were always having political debates around
      the house, but then I found out that among all these family members
      who had all these grand ideas, none of them ever voted. There was a
      sense that, 'I don't like the way things are, but there's nothing I
      can do about it.' I thought: I'm going to show these people."

      Starting in January, Ali will represent District 39, a
      horseshoe-shaped swath of land in Montgomery County. The area has a
      growing community of newly arrived South Asians and Latinos, and Ali
      said he focused on courting immigrants during his campaign in part
      because he thought they might not have voted before. He supports
      driver's licenses for residents regardless of their immigration status
      and in-state tuition for people who graduate from Maryland high
      schools; he opposes provisions of the federal Patriot Act.

      "His pro-immigrant priorities completely jumped off the map for us,"
      said Kim Propeack, advocacy director at CASA of Maryland, an immigrant
      rights group. "When I met him, I told him how happy I was to see
      someone with an unabashedly pro-immigrant attitude."

      Ali did not talk much about his faith, however, which bothered some
      Muslims and non-Muslims, he said.

      "I'm not hiding anything, but it didn't seem relevant. It doesn't make
      sense; no one advertises their church," he said.

      In fact, candidates for public office often make faith part of their
      political identities. Maryland candidates Michael S. Steele, Douglas
      M. Duncan and Benjamin L. Cardin all spoke about their religious
      beliefs during their campaigns.

      But running as a Muslim has its challenges. A Montgomery man was given
      a police warning during the campaign after he sat outside Ali's home
      with a sign saying "Islam sucks."

      Amaney Jamal, a Princeton University political scientist who is
      working with the Pew Research Center on a survey of American Muslims,
      said that although civic engagement has been increasing, there has
      been a shift in focus from influencing Middle East policy to
      strengthening domestic institutions.

      Muslim donors gave approximately $200,000 to Virginia candidates, up
      from $40,000 in 2002, said Mukit Hossain, director of the Virginia
      Muslim Political Action Committee.

      Attendance at Muslim-oriented political events was also up, activists
      said. More than 600 people attended the Virginia Muslim Civic Picnic
      this summer, an event held for state candidates that has grown since
      it began in 2001. About 1,300 people attended a candidates' night a
      few weeks before the election at Falls Church mosque Dar Al Hijrah,
      Hossain said.

      And last December, the Maryland Muslim Council formed to help field
      and promote candidates, among other things. Since the election,
      Hossain said, he has received phone calls from Richmond, Harrisonburg
      and Fredericksburg, as well as from other states where Muslims want to
      know how to form local political action committees.

      "In this election, we saw a level of mobilization and engagement of
      Muslims that has never happened before," said Ibrahim Ramey, director
      of the Muslim American Society's human and civil rights division, at a
      news conference after the Nov. 7 election.

      Activists at the news conference said they were celebrating the high
      turnout and the fact that Muslims apparently influenced a key election
      with national implications: James Webb's successful Democratic bid for
      the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia. The partisan leanings also were
      clear from the Webb lapel pin that Hossain wore.

      Now that Muslims are starting to figure out how to turn out their
      vote, the horizon is becoming more complex. Heated debates are
      beginning over how prominent a role mosques will play in organizing
      people, whether Muslims will focus on civil liberties to the exclusion
      of social and economic issues, and whether they will remain a
      Democratic bloc, as they have since 2004.

      "I don't want us to become overly dogmatic and introverted or to
      become a ghetto, as has happened in European countries," Hossain said.
      "I think the Muslim community can do a great job of bringing focus to
      social issues, whether they belong to the Muslim community or not. I
      hope, as we mature, we become a progressive force for other issues,
      not just civil liberties."

      Since Ali won his race, he has been busy answering those requests for
      advice. "What I tell them is, know your community well, work hard and
      don't be a one-issue candidate," he said. "And don't let anyone paint
      you as 'the Muslim candidate.' "

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