Absar Chowdhury of Sterling cast his ballot for George W. Bush in 2000 because the Republican candidate vowed to stop the use of secret evidence in deportation hearings, opposed abortion and "looked like he was religious."
But the Bangladesh-born Muslim said he will vote for Democrat John F. Kerry next week because President Bush has disappointed him in several ways. In particular, Chowdhury cited an erosion of civil liberties, including the continuing use of secret evidence, and the war in Iraq, which has left thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,100 Americans dead.
"He was saying that he was religious, but the Fifth Commandment says we shall not kill," said Chowdhury, 45, a computer center shift manager.
Chowdhury is emblematic of a dramatic switch among Muslim voters. Four years ago, 42 percent of them voted for Bush. But in this year's race, they are expected to vote overwhelmingly for his Democratic opponent, with one recent poll showing 76 percent of the Muslim vote going to Kerry and 7 percent to Bush.
"For American Muslims, there has been a sea change in political alignment and outlook since 9/11," said Zahid H. Bukhari, director of Georgetown University's Project MAPS, a long-term research project on American Muslims, which commissioned Zogby International to conduct the recent poll.
"No matter what Bush says to Muslims right now, it doesn't matter because he's broken so much trust with our community," said Nabil Yousef, 21, of Arlington, a Georgetown University senior who started www.muslimsforKerry.com in August.
The election also has sparked unprecedented Muslim activism. After months of voter registration drives and candidate forums, Muslim organizations are arranging transportation for voters on Election Day, phone banks to get out the vote and volunteers to explain ballot designs. Mosque prayer leaders, or imams, are encouraging their congregations to vote, and Muslim leaders anticipate the highest-ever turnout in their community.
"Muslims are probably the most sensitized and motivated group to vote this year," said Mukit Hossain of Sterling, president of the Muslim American Political Action Committee, which endorsed Kerry. "Voter registration is in the 90 percent range, and I would be very surprised if almost 80 percent of those people don't come out to vote."
Hossain said his committee counted about 10,000 newly registered Muslim voters in the Washington area in recent months: 1,000 in the District, 4,000 in Maryland and 5,000 in Virginia. He said that brings the number of registered Muslim voters to 3,700 in the District and 48,000 in Virginia, with no statewide figure available in Maryland.
Estimates of the number of Muslims in the United States vary enormously, from 3 million to 7 million. The Muslim American Society has estimated there are at least 700,000 registered Muslim voters nationwide, but little hard data from independent sources are available.
African Americans, who make up about 30 percent of the Muslim American population, traditionally vote Democratic by an overwhelming margin. But Democrat Al Gore received the votes of only 55 percent of African American Muslims in 2000, and Bush drew votes from 49 percent of South Asian Muslims and 54 percent of Arab Muslims in that election, according to Georgetown's Bukhari.
Polls also show a move away from Bush among the country's 1.7 million to 2 million registered Arab American voters, 46 percent of whom voted Republican in 2000. Three-quarters of the U.S. electorate is Christian, and they have similar concerns as Muslims on racial profiling, the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to pollster John Zogby, head of Zogby International.
Among Arab Americans, "the issues of civil liberties and racial profiling tend to impact Muslims and immigrants more," Zogby said. "But it is still cited as a problem -- less acute but still a problem -- among Christians and American-born" Arabs.
The anticipated swing to Kerry could be crucial in some battleground states with significant Muslim and Arab populations, analysts said. For example, Florida, where Bush won by 537 votes in 2000, has 120,717 registered Muslim voters, according to an analysis of state voter rolls by Hossain's Muslim American Political Action Committee and the District-based Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.