One week after Bushra Amiwala decided to run
for office, her mom forwarded her an article about a Muslim judge in New York
who was found dead in the Hudson River.
her father was unfazed — having for years predicted his first American-born
child would run for president — Amiwala’s mother feared the political arena:
You have to lie to be a politician. You will be attacked for wearing a Hijab.
You won’t have time to get married and will struggle to remain true to
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 racist tweets on Sunday about four female lawmakers —
more members of the community are getting politically involved in more visible
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.
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.”
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.
when Amiwala unsuccessfully ran for the Cook County Board, community support
entailed words of encouragement from mosque leaders but not much else.
"They were like, ‘That’s great, Mashallah! When can we vote for you?’” she
By the time
she ran again in 2019 — after an outpouring of support from the community and
even her previous opponent, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin — networks
of politically minded Muslims had begun working together.
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.’"
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 centres 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.
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.”
and Moral Support
was elected to a Lake County school district board this year. She worked with a
partner of the coalition, the Northern Illinois American Muslim Alliance, to
find resources and advice while campaigning.
you just need to tell someone that you had a bad day canvassing,” said Khan,
who has four children at Oak Grove School, a K-8 school in Green Oaks, and also
attended the school when she was a kid.
parents, who were Pakistani immigrants, helped establish the first mosque in
Lake County, she said, and the Muslim community was excited to see her run for
a board position. In the school community, she is seen as a leader for South
Asian and Muslim families, often representing their views to school
administrators, who have been responsive to the concerns of different
populations, she said.
Every Community Has Been As Welcoming.
Sayed Sadat was knocking on doors with her kids in Lisle, she said she heard
the phrase “get out of this country” more than once. And though her campaign
was bolstered by many members of the Democratic Party, some advisers suggested
she remove her middle name from campaign materials.
that kind of negativity from people who are supposed to support me was
disheartening,” she said. “I’m not a size 2, blond-haired, blue-eyed person. My
identity is mine, and I wanted to run on my full name.”
is an Indian immigrant, did just that and now serves as a village trustee in
Lisle. While the coalition provided fundraising, advertising and strategy
support, Sadat received moral support from her 13-year-old daughter.
time someone told us to go back to where we came from, my daughter told me that
she’s heard that at school, too,” said Sadat. “We took a moment, had some ice
cream and went back out the next day.”
Take Centre Stage’
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.
In a 2018
Pew report, the difference between how Muslim immigrants view living in the
U.S. versus American-born Muslims is stark: 65% of immigrant Muslims said there
is a lot of discrimination against Muslims. Of American-born Muslims, the
number is a whopping 91%.
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 centre
stage, be unafraid.”
a graduate student at University of Illinois at Chicago who joined Saturday’s
rally at Daley Plaza to protest U.S. immigration policy, said it is important
to acknowledge fear but participate anyway. Rezvi, who was born in Pakistan and
is a naturalized citizen, said there is real fear in her family that
citizenship for naturalized citizens could be revoked by the Trump
especially hard for us because South Asian communities have benefited from
acting white and distancing ourselves from other non-white groups,” Rezvi said.
“I think there’s a lot of soul-searching we need to do, and I think we need to
understand that it’s going to be necessary for us to risk our comfort in order
said she was disappointed that more Muslims didn’t attend the Daley Plaza
activism is related to the faith. We know the Prophet married women who were
powerful and strong. We know the faith dictates we protect the vulnerable and
especially children,” Rezvi said. “It’s hard to be in spaces like this and not
see more of our people.”
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.
presents challenges because Muslim communities are at the intersection of
various hard-to-count populations, including immigrants, Asian Americans,
African Americans, renters and non-English speakers.
Siddiquee, who is a member of the coalition, said trust is a major factor with
the community, which has sometimes struggled with law enforcement.
communities have a long history of being cautious of law enforcement. Besides
dealing with religion-based hate crimes, mosque communities often have to
battle zoning boards and local groups who don’t want new mosques built, and
surveillance from authorities they must rely on for protection.
2011, The Associated Press reported on extensive spying and surveillance of
mosques in New York City by the New York Police Department. More recently,
journalist and documentary filmmaker Assia Boundaoui discovered that her Muslim
community in Bridgeview was the target of an FBI surveillance project called
“Operation Vulgar Betrayal.” Cases like these, which are now more widely
acknowledged, have often created distrust of authorities, even if those
authorities — like the Census Bureau — don’t directly work with law
some progress with these relations, at least with security issues, but it
doesn’t always feel significant,” Siddiquee said.
coalition’s census efforts have included education campaigns to encourage
Muslims to self-respond or volunteer to fill out census questionnaires starting
in March 2020.
millennial and 40-something Muslims — who are more settled than their parents
were — have come into their own, they have helped organize these new political
support groups, Kamran said. She cited two Muslim politicians from the Midwest
as inspiration: U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
former refugee born in Somalia who represents Minnesota, has come under attack
by Republicans and Democrats for her criticism of Israel and the role of money
in politics. Michigan’s Tlaib became the first Palestinian American woman in
Congress. For many young Muslim women in particular, Omar and Tlaib are
examples of how to engage in politics without having to compromise one’s
values, Kamran and Amiwala said.
Tlaib have been vocal about denouncing Trump and have called for his
impeachment. After the president tweeted this weekend that the minority
congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime
infested places from which they came,” they fired back on social media and in a
Monday news conference, calling the tweets a distraction and criticizing the
white nationalism behind the president’s words. Three of the four congresswomen
were born in the U.S., including Tlaib, Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts
and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
generation establishes the mosques and the schools for the community,” Kamran
said. “The next generations get to do things like civic engagement. It’s a time
for us to step up.”
run for school board, Amiwala was part of the pilot episode of “Run,” a reality
show that features five female political experts assisting women running for
office around the country. Amiwala appears in the trailer of the show as the
team helps her with campaign tools like technology, canvassing and comedy.
the distrust that exists among Muslims who have felt left out of civic life,
Amiwala said that since her involvement on the school board, she has seen a
180-degree turn in even her mom’s involvement.
marijuana vote was happening, my mom was the one who was like, 'Did you hear
that someone cracked an egg on the floor?’" said Amiwala, referring to
state Rep. Anthony DeLuca cracking an egg into a frying pan to represent “your
brain on drugs.” “She reads this stuff now. It’s so cool.”
(pronounced no’-sheen) does data analysis and visual projects on the Tribune
Graphics team, and reports on migration and Muslim communities in Chicago.
Nausheen is an alumna of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and New
York University; she's worked at Newsweek International, the Huffington Post
and the Chicago Sun-Times
Source: Chicago Tribune