Muslim’s urged to take ‘center stage”
Historically, immigrants have had a tendency to avoid public civic life, activists say. But in an era of immigration raids, presidential travel bans directed at mostly Muslim-majority countries, slurs against Muslims in elected office — and President Donald Trump’s alleged racist tweets on Sunday about four female lawmakers — more members of the Muslim community are getting politically involved in more visible ways.
Emgage, a group that encourages civic involvement by Muslim Americans, found that voting by Muslim Americans went up by 25 percentage points between 2014 and 2018 in the four key states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. In the general population, that figure was up 14 percentage points.
“Back in the day, we didn’t know our elected officials,” said Amiwala, referring to when her parents first moved to Rogers Park from Karachi, Pakistan, in 1996. “None of us had met someone who had run for office. They all had such similar names and similar backgrounds.”
Now, Amiwala, 21, is one of at least 10 Muslims who has successfully run for elected office in Illinois in the past few years. A rising senior at DePaul University, she was elected to the Skokie School District 73.5 Board of Education in April and is one of the youngest Muslims elected in the country.
“It started as several groups in their own silos,” said Reema Kamran, a co-founder and the executive director of the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition. “It was people going, ‘Hey, I really need to talk to someone about blank.’”
Funded by grants and donations, the coalition has worked with candidates in the past two election cycles, cold-calling constituents, knocking on doors, and using mosques and community centers to encourage Muslims to vote. They also held their first campaign training session for Muslim candidates in December 2018 and joined forces with other local civic groups.
“Because we’ve had people who’ve run for office already, like Bushra, we were able to put together resources for new folks who wanted to run,” Kamran said. “And it gave us a chance to come together and talk about how to improve civic engagement in our community as a whole.”
While helping Muslim candidates in the Chicago area run for office is a priority for the coalition, finding ways to engage Muslim voters is part of a wider strategy, said educator and coalition co-founder Dilara Sayeed.
“Our message to the community is, continue your leadership. Be civic and social leaders,” Sayeed said. “You’re welcome to do it behind the scenes, as we’ve been taught in some of our cultures to do, but when it is time to take center stage, be unafraid.”
Being counted is another priority for the coalition, which has started working with the U.S. Census Bureau to form an Illinois Muslim Complete Count Committee. The committee will work to make sure Muslims, considered a “hard-to-count” population, are aware the next census is in 2020 and how important it is that the community is counted.
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