Clarification to This Article
This article and headline about a candidate forum for the Muslim community in Reston may have left the impression that some in the crowd booed Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) because he asked whether they "come in peace" and pledge allegiance to the United States. The boos occurred after Delgaudio said those things, but event organizers contend that the crowd booed Delgaudio for his stance on illegal immigrants.

Candidates Reach Out to Muslims

Mike J.
Mike J. "Spike" Williams (I), a candidate for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, addresses members of Northern Virginia's Muslim community at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

Close to 1,000 members of Northern Virginia's Muslim community packed a corner of a Fairfax County park in the wilting heat yesterday for emotional, and sometimes tense, encounters with a procession of public officials and political candidates eager to court their votes.

Cheers, applause and a few boos greeted more than 70 candidates at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston as they touted their records and issued campaign promises to the sweating crowd. It was one of the first organized events of a campaign season in which the seats of all members of the Virginia General Assembly and several county offices are up for election Nov. 6.

The afternoon's most dramatic moment came when Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who has led efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants, took the microphone to make a rambling appeal to the Muslim voters in his eastern Loudoun district. Sterling is the home of one of the region's largest mosques.

"I stand with you," he shouted. But he drew scattered boos when he demanded to know whether those in the crowd "come in peace" and whether they pledge allegiance to the United States.

Moments later, Maryland Del. Saqib Ali (D-Montgomery), the first Muslim elected to a state or districtwide office in the Washington area, answered Delgaudio with a sharp rebuke that brought a roar of approval from the crowd.

"Our values are the values of tolerance and inclusion," Ali said. "Mr. Delgaudio . . . you do not reflect our values, even if you say you do."

The event was the seventh annual "civic picnic," organized by a group of Northern Virginia mosques to encourage members of the fast-growing Muslim community to get more involved in local politics.

With their concern about the burgeoning anti-illegal immigrant legislation across parts of Northern Virginia, as well as such bread-and-butter issues as traffic, taxes and schools, Muslim voters represent a small but potent voting force in the state, Muslim leaders say.

More than 56,000 Muslims are registered to vote in Northern Virginia, and last year, more than eight in 10 turned out to vote, compared with about five in 10 for the general population, said Mukit Hossain, a board member of the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, which tracks trends and candidates in local elections.

Nationally, about two-thirds of Muslims are immigrants. And anti-illegal immigrant legislation, local Muslim leaders say, is a major focus for Muslim voters.

A survey of Muslim registered voters last month by the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee found that 95 percent were concerned about anti-illegal immigrant legislation at the county and state levels.

"We are definitely concerned as an immigrant community, not necessarily as a Muslim community, about any laws that might lead to profiling or to discrimination," said Adil Khan, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Virginia, which has a 1,000-member mosque in Woodbridge.

Aside from politicians, the picnic featured a moon bounce for the children, a contingent of Muslim Boy Scouts ready to help anyone overcome by the heat and afternoon prayers under a stand of trees.

Women in hijabs -- traditional head coverings -- fanned sweaty children on their laps and examined campaign literature while men fetched bottles of water and read the political pamphlets over the shoulders of their wives. Those who weren't registered to vote were asked to sign up.

Hossain Hahidian, president of the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, said area Muslims are nervously eyeing laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Although the majority of Muslim immigrants are in the country legally, he said, the laws "vilify the illegal immigrant and, by extension, it vilifies all immigrants."

Organizers of the event said they were keeping track of which candidates showed up for the picnic and would e-mail members of the Muslim community to let them know who attended.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company