Muslims Claim a Growing Stake in U.S. Politics
By Kaukab J. Smith
Saturday, July 31, 2004; Page B07
BOSTON -- Provoked by what they see as civil rights violations after the terrorist attacks of 2001, U.S. Muslims are growing more politically active and sophisticated.
The number of Muslim delegates to this year's Democratic National Convention grew by 60 percent. Forty Muslim delegates, including a Maryland woman, represented 20 states at the 2004 convention, up from 25 Muslims at the Democratic convention four years ago.
The selection of Erum Malik, 43, of Ellicott City is an example of how greater numbers of Muslims are engaging in shaping public policy through grass-roots lobbying, voter registration drives, fundraising and running for office since Sept. 11, 2001, community leaders said.
"There has been a historic and unprecedented under-representation of Muslims in government in America, from the county to the federal level," said Saqib Ali of North Potomac, a computer engineer active with the nonpartisan Montgomery County Muslim Council.
"We have been a politically immature community," Ali said.
The terrorist attacks "jolted people out of their complacency," he said.
Before 9/11, Muslim groups were "naive" about the workings of the U.S. political system, said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, an Islamic think tank in Bethesda.
Ahmad said he believes that strong Muslim support helped deliver Florida to George W. Bush in 2000, with exit polls showing an overwhelming percentage of Florida Muslims voted Republican.
Many Muslims came to regret their support for the Bush campaign when they became subject to profiling, arrest and registration after the attacks, Ahmad said.
"People are beginning to realize . . . they need to get their act together and get into politics," said Mushtaque Mirza, an executive board member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, who helped organize an event honoring Muslim convention delegates at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge. "I think Muslims are getting more politically aware."
Part of that political awareness has meant Muslim voter registration has shifted from the Republican Party toward the Democrats, said several Muslim delegates from Texas and Minnesota gathered at an Islamic Society event Tuesday.
In Texas, for example, mostly South Asian Muslim groups have registered thousands of voters and encouraged community participation, leading to Texas bringing the single largest number of Muslim delegates -- seven -- to this year's convention.
Muslim groups also have developed more sophisticated political tactics recently, forming coalitions and conducting interfaith dialogues in a way that would have been impossible four years ago, Ahmad said.
"Muslims have to let people know they're a swing vote if they want to be effective," Ahmad said.
"Liberty is for everybody," Malik said. "Unless we do get involved in this political process, our voices won't be heard."
Malik represents about 1 percent of the 99-member Maryland voting delegation, almost the same proportion as the Muslim population in Maryland. About 0.9 percent of all 4,332 convention delegates this year are Muslim, compared with 0.75 to 2.25 percent of the U.S. population.
Ali feels Muslim communities take on political power when they band together.
"Organizing a community is itself a political act," he said. "We're going to go and serve our country as Americans and as Muslims, and there's no contradiction in that."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company