Beliefs News Politics

How Trump is getting out the Muslim vote

Young Muslims protest U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before being escorted out during a campaign rally in the Kansas Republican Caucus at the Century II Convention and Entertainment Center in Wichita, Kansas on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Dave Kaup *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MUSLIM-VOTERS, originally transmitted on March 9, 2016.

(RNS) Salim Jaffer moved to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. His family, along with the rest of the Indian community, had been expelled from Uganda in 1972 under the violent dictator Idi Amin and sought a respite in America.

But he said he’s never felt in danger until this year.

“As a Muslim, I feel threatened,” said Jaffer, a gastroenterologist living in Lansing, Mich. “It’s as if someone is trying to take away my civil rights. Think about it. Donald Trump thinks we should stop immigration of Muslims coming into this country. Marco Rubio, he wants to close down mosques. Ted Cruz, he wants to see if ‘sand glows’ in Syria.”

That’s why Jaffer participated in his first-ever presidential primary Tuesday (March 8), casting his vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. And it’s the reason he, a doctor who only superficially followed politics for most of his life, has just submitted paperwork to register a new nonprofit organization aimed at getting Midwestern Muslims to vote in November.

“From a Muslim standpoint, we’ve got to make sure we get somebody who is sympathetic to our cause and understands the sociology, the theology, the anthropology and the history of Islam,” he said.

With Trump leading the Republican race, Muslim groups are launching voter registration drives in a push to ensure that the Islamophobic rhetoric of the election campaign is rejected at the polls.


RELATED STORY: Exit poll religion questions confuse and mislead, critics say


“Anti-Muslim rhetoric is motivating Muslim Americans across the country to engage in the political process like never before,” Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told RNS. “This is true in Minnesota, as well as in swing states like Virginia and Florida where Muslim Americans will play a critical role on Election Day.”

The Pew Research Center estimates that there are 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. And, according to data from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, almost three-quarters of Muslim voters plan to vote in state primaries this year.

“If you as a political candidate choose to spew hatred, bigotry and to vilify Muslim Americans, you do so at your own political risk,” Altaf Husain, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, declared at a press conference in December. “We will use every democratic means and political strategy to ensure your candidacy never succeeds.”

That day, CAIR and more than a dozen affiliated Muslim groups announced a national drive to register 20,000 voters. The US Council of Muslim Organizations is also planning a campaign to register 1 million voters before Election Day.

Keith Ellison, Democratic candidate for Congress, greets commuters at a light rail stop in Minneapolis on November 7, 2006. After his election, Ellison became the first Muslim in Congress as well as the first black representative from Minnesota. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Eric Miller *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MUSLIM-POLL, originally transmitted on July 14, 2015, or with RNS-MUSLIM-VOTERS, originally transmitted on March 10, 2016.

Keith Ellison, Democratic candidate for Congress, greets commuters at a light rail stop in Minneapolis on Nov. 7, 2006. After his election, Ellison became the first Muslim in Congress as well as the first black representative from Minnesota. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Eric Miller
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MUSLIM-POLL, originally transmitted on July 14, 2015, or with RNS-MUSLIM-VOTERS, originally transmitted on March 10, 2016.

Mosques in Virginia and Georgia have sent mass emails, posted signs and set up tables outside their prayer halls to direct members on how to vote in their primaries. Imams from Chicago to Detroit are underscoring the importance of voting during their Friday sermons.

“There’s a lot in the balance this election cycle for American Muslims, not just the general issues around the economy and health care,” said Imam Dawud Walid, who heads CAIR’s Michigan chapter and has spoken at local Islamic centers about this election’s importance. “We’re urging people to exercise their right to vote in particular if they don’t want to see a president who is making statements that Muslims aren’t welcome in the U.S.”

On Wednesday night, Trump said Islam had a “tremendous hatred” of the West. In December, he called for a “total and complete” shutdown of Muslim immigration to the U.S. He has claimed that American Muslims celebrated 9/11 and said Muslims should carry a special ID. Last month, he recounted as fact an old debunked myth about a general executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.

And he’s won primaries or caucuses in 15 states so far.

“We used to find this kind of Islamophobia lurking on anonymous blogs or Islamophobic websites,” said Omid Safi, who directs Duke University’s Islamic studies center. “Then we saw them move over to Fox News, and now being amplified from the mouths of people running for the highest office in the land.”


RELATED STORY: Muhammad Ali to Trump: You don’t know Islam


About a quarter of Muslim voters CAIR surveyed on Super Tuesday named such Islamophobia their top concern going into the primaries. In 2014, it ranked third. For many, that rising fear now comes coupled with the realization that Trump could be sitting in the Oval Office come January.

Thasin Sardar, at the Islamic Center of East Lansing, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Thasin Sardar

Thasin Sardar, at the Islamic Center of East Lansing, Mich. Photo courtesy of Thasin Sardar

It’s resulting in a movement not unlike one happening in the Latino community, where some legal residents are rushing to earn their citizenship in time to vote against Trump in November.

Voter advocacy is particularly important in immigrant communities, where people may not understand how and why to perform their civic rights, said Thasin Sardar, former president of Michigan’s Islamic Society of Greater Lansing.

The multicultural mosque is gearing up to join the US Council of Muslim Organizations’ voter registration drive now that the state’s primary elections, which Trump and Bernie Sanders won, are over.

“The primaries in Michigan aren’t as competitive as in other states,” said Sardar, who voted for Sanders. “And of course, the Republican side isn’t of much interest to us, other than not wanting them to win in the presidential election.”

It wasn’t so long ago that Muslims actively supported the Republican Party. Many identified with the party’s social conservatism that stood against against gay marriage and abortion rights. More than three-quarters of American Muslim voters cast ballots for George W. Bush. Even today, CAIR estimates that 18 percent of Muslim voters will be supporting Republican candidates, and up to 11 percent favor Trump. These Muslims, such as first-time voter Syed Hussain of Maryland, say they are more concerned about economic issues than Islamophobia. Still, he’s expressed unease over Trump’s comments about banning Muslim immigration. “But at least he’s honest, and I think he won’t be able to do it,” he told RNS.

But the focus has largely shifted since then. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “the narrative in the Muslim community changed to think about issues affecting them in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Los Angeles-based political activist Tanzila Ahmed. From the Patriot Act to the Iraq war to conservative backlash against Middle Eastern and South Asian communities, Muslim Americans felt betrayed.

Fardowsa Omar, right, a member of Islamic Center of East Lansing, works at the Precinct 5 polls during the primary on March 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of Thasin Sardar

Fardowsa Omar, right, a member of Islamic Center of East Lansing, Mich., works at the Precinct 5 polls during the primary on March 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of Thasin Sardar

Now, almost 15 years after 9/11, about 67 percent of Muslim American voters say they are supporting Democratic candidates in the upcoming presidential elections, according to data from CAIR.

Younger and more liberal Muslim voters are overwhelmingly in favor of Sanders, who has campaigned strategically with Muslim and Arab communities by visiting mosques, giving an hourlong speech against Islamophobia and airing Arabic-language ads in the city with the highest Arab concentration. Older Muslims still dislike Clinton’s pro-Israel stance but have put their weight behind the Democratic Party’s establishment candidate.

Civic leaders are harnessing this energy to mobilize voters.

Teams in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York City, San Francisco and tens of other cities are organizing electoral engagement on the ground. Organizing platform MPower Change’s new campaign urges supporters to pledge “to make sure that this election will no longer be about us, without us,” through media and voter engagement. A new video series from Emerge USA pushes Muslim communities to vote at a rate 10 percent above the state average.

“Turn your centers, Islamic centers, mosques into registration centers for voters, into polling stations during the election time,” CAIR’s Nihad Awad said on stage at a major Islamic conference in Chicago. “We have to register every single Muslim to vote in 2016.”


RELATED STORY: How a proposed Muslim cemetery became a battleground for America’s soul (COMMENTARY)


That type of mass mobilization is a ways off, according to Ahmed, who works as a campaign manager for Asian-American activist group 18MillionRising and has trained Muslim leaders to work in electoral engagement. Still, she said, the numbers will only go up from here.

“I don’t think people were seeing (Trump) as a big contender until Super Tuesday,” Ahmed said. “I’m not sure we’re seeing a Trump effect with Muslims heading to the polls yet. But we’re definitely going to be seeing it in the next few months.”

Ahmed said Muslim organizers are using Trump’s “embodiment of the fear-industrial complex of Islamophobia” strategically to push voters to the polls — just as much as analysts suggest Trump is capitalizing on Islamophobia to gain right-wing support.

“Trump is using the rhetoric of fear and bigotry to mobilize support around him in a time of economic uncertainty,” Safi, who has endorsed Sanders, explained. “Many Muslims are starting to recognize that it’s not about persuading people that Muslims are human. It’s ultimately about building the Beloved Community here in America, as Dr. King used to say.”

About the author

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith for RNS. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, focuses on Muslims in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS.

27 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • I have kind of noticed that 99% of current terroristic killings against the U.S.A. are Islamic in origin. The killing plans are known by many others before they occur but never turned in before hand except by undercover ‘pseudo-Islamists’. Would Catholics protect their terrorists as well? They did in Ireland. Until an Irish Catholic leader took the stance of turning the terrorists in the death just continued and continued.

  • You have noticed?!!! interesting comments Thomas…Apparently you are selective in regurgitating what you have heard or read from the same posts or bigots that Bobby did. You need NOT to forget the inquisition courts in Europe and the Muslims who embraced the fleeing victims of the same type of bigots as ISIS…Perhaps you need to be more educated on historical facts and how bigots from all religions act…very similar in nature and often times commit more crimes against their own kind than others…This is not to point a fingure at any religion, but to highlight that we are doomed if people like you and Bobby are comfortable in their ignorance and faling into the bigotry and racism zones…what a shame

  • 99% of terrorist killings are if islamic origin? Well let’s out that into perspective. In the last 15 years Muslim terrorists have killed less than 100 people here in the U.S. Bowfin they me wrong that is a terrible and despicable act however every terrorist killing had a motive of the U.S. False war on Iraq. Think about it…. We killed 250,000 innocent Iraqis and destroyed a county and we got a payback of less than 100 killings ! Last time I checked when America was attacked by Japan we retaliated with 2 atomic bombs killing 100,000 people. We falsely attack a country and kill 250,000 and only 100 people are randomly killed in 15 years!!! During this same time period over 200,000 people have been murdered in the U.S. And not by Muslims. Your chances of being killed by a Muslim is 1 in 20 million. Your chances of being killed by a random stranger is 1 in 18000 !!!! The Republican Party is just scaring everyone about Muslims because they don’t want to deal with the real dangers.

  • Funny, because the overwhelming majority of bombings and mass shootings are done by crazy white christian men.

    ” Would Catholics protect their terrorists as well?”

    They did when they were called the IRA. In fact, the terrorists who planted bombs all over the UK and Northern Ireland got most of their money and guns from American Catholics for most of their existence.

    American Jews supported terrorism against the British during the “Mandate period” between 1945-47. Even to the point of violating laws concerning serving in foreign forces and smuggling weapons.

    So yes, you are full of it here.

  • This is funny headline. The one thing about Trump is he has re-energized voters and spurred greater voter participation….AGAINST HIM.

    In the back of my mind, it is like Trump is playing a practical joke on a grand scale against the GOP. He is exposing (possibly unintentionally) how obviously bigoted much of their rank and file are and showing how little they really care about the religious right agenda (abortion, anti-gays, mixing church and state)

  • Methinksmesmellsabigbunchabull byacreepydisinformationistnonmuslim
    orasatiristwhoistoodryformetoknowforsure

  • Perhaps it is helpful to contrast Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric with that of Hitler and Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust..History tends to repeat itself and we never learn unfortunately!

  • RETRACTION: I AM SO SORRY, ABDUL AMEER!

    After reading Wikipedia’s article on CAIR, I can’t confirm the truth either way. There are too many assertions, contradictions, questionable sources, and muddled motivations to be sure about virtually any of the “facts”. However, the article did corroborate without contradiction Mr. Ameer’s statement that “CAIR has already been declared to be a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates”.

    I should have checked the facts first, and should not have blindly engaged my “liberal sensibilities” and indulged my tendency to defend an entity that **seemed** to me to have been disparaged.

    I sincerely apologize to Mr. Ameer, especially for my inexcusably flippant slight against his character and religious affiliation — for which, in retrospect, I can offer no defense whatsoever, since it ran completely counter to my personal values of Equality, Respect, and Compassion.

    I will strive never to repeat my trespass.

  • What a conundrum! The party that offers acceptance and tolerance is 100% in opposition to the basic beliefs of Islam. The Republicans, whose ideology is closer to Islam offers the least acceptance because they are backed in a large part by intolerant Christians. Many in both groups view Islam as anathema to democracy.

  • He is more like a high grade Huey Long than a Hitler. The US is not like 1930’s Germany by a long shot.

    You can’t win an election in this country without courting at least some minority vote these days. Trump has managed to annoy virtually all of them at this point and a good portion of the majority.

    Trump is running a scorched earth campaign in the primary. It is highly successful strategy for courting Republicans but seems to have the effect of souring opinion of him for the general election. There is a reason conservatives use “dogwhistle” speech when being bigots. Its one thing to be accused of being a bigot, its another thing to prove it to the public.

    Plus there is a good reason to believe most of Trump’s presidency would be typified by the phrase, “Mr. President, we can’t actually do that”.

  • “CAIR has already been declared to be a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates,”

    Given that the UAE is an absolute dictatorship which acts as the bankers for Al Queda and ISIS, being declared an enemy of them would be a great endorsement! Assuming it is true, which one cannot.

    The only sources which cite CAIR and HAMAS connection are ultra-right wingnut sites lacking in veracity (Breitbart, Pamela Geller…) People who can never be taken at face value.

  • The majority of Jews, Muslims and Blacks vote Democrat automatically.So isn’t it a bit absurd to think that somehow they’re gonna vote for a Republican? Trumps getting votes from a lot of people who could care less about religion in any form and many who do.Romney lost because people stayed home disgusted. Not because he lost the Muslim, Black and Jewish votes.

  • TRUTH IS KNOWLEDGE AND KNOWLEGDE IS POWER
    I strongly encourage the reader to share this with your friend. It is very important we know the evil from within.

    I invite you to think long and hard about why is CAIR, an organization on the list of UAE list of terrorism organization and an legal entity which has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the single largest terrorist financing trial in American history. And these fools think they’re above the law. This is a sick – disgusting commentary of what we are dealing with in America. What the hell game are those clown playing at?

    I further encourage you to view the following https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQf20ep5BxU

    The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) describes itself as a “non-profit, grassroots membership organization … established to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,” to protect Muslims from hate crimes and discrimination, and to present “an Islamic perspective on issues…

ADVERTISEMENTs