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Muslim candidates running in record numbers face backlash

In this June 18, 2018, photo, attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, left, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., greets residents of an apartment complex while campaigning in Springfield, Mass. Muslim Americans are running for elected office in numbers not seen since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A liberal woman of color with zero name recognition and little funding takes down a powerful, long-serving congressman from her own political party.

When Tahirah Amatul-Wadud heard about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset over U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary last month, the first-time candidate saw parallels with her own long-shot campaign for Congress in western Massachusetts.

The 44-year-old Muslim, African-American civil rights lawyer, who is taking on a 30-year congressman and ranking Democrat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, says she wasn’t alone, as encouragement, volunteers and donations started pouring in.

“We could barely stay on top of the residual love,” says Amatul-Wadud, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s lone challenger in the state’s Sept. 4 Democratic primary. “It sent a message to all of our volunteers, voters and supporters that winning is very possible.”

From Congress to state legislatures and school boards, Muslim Americans spurred to action by the anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric of President Trump and his supporters are running for elected offices in numbers not seen since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, say Muslim groups and political observers.

Many, like Amatul-Wadud, hope to ride the surge of progressive activism within the Democratic Party that delivered Ocasio-Cortez’s unlikely win and could help propel the Democrats back to power in November.

Still, the path to victory can be tougher for a Muslim. Some promising campaigns already have fizzled out while many more face strong anti-Muslim backlash.

In Michigan, Democrat candidate for governor Abdul El-Sayed continues to face unfounded claims from a GOP rival that he has ties to the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, even though Republican and Democratic politicians alike have denounced the accusations as “conspiracy theories.”

In Rochester, Minn., mayoral candidate Regina Mustafa has notified authorities of at least two instances where anti-Muslim threats were posted on her social media accounts.

And in Arizona, U.S. Senate candidate Deedra Abboud received a torrent of Islamophobic attacks on Facebook last July that prompted outgoing U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican lawmaker Abboud is hoping to replace, to come to her defense on Twitter.

“I’m a strong believer that we have to face this rhetoric,” said Abboud, who has also had right-wing militant groups the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights and the Proud Boys stage armed protests at her campaign events. “We can’t ignore it or pretend like it’s a fringe element anymore. We have to let the ugly face show so that we can decide if that is us.”

There were as many as 90 Muslims running for national or statewide offices this election cycle, a number that Muslim groups say was unprecedented, at least in the post-9/11 era.

But recent primaries have whittled the field down to around 50, a number that still far exceeds the dozen or so who ran in 2016, said Shaun Kennedy, co-founder of Jetpac, a Massachusetts nonprofit that helps train Muslim candidates.

Among the candidates to fall short were California physician Asif Mahmood, who placed third in last month’s primary for state insurance commissioner despite raising more than $1 million. And in Texas, wealthy businessman Tahir Javed finished a distant second in his Democratic primary for Congress, despite an endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Nine candidates for Congress are still in the running, according to Jetpac’s tally. At least 18 others are campaigning for state legislatures and 10 more seek major statewide and local offices, such as governor, mayor and city council. Even more are running for more modest offices like local planning boards and school committees.

The next critical stretch of primaries is in August.

In Michigan, at least seven Muslims are on the Aug. 7 ballot, including El-Sayed, who could become the nation’s first Muslim governor.

In Minnesota, the decision by Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim congressman, to run for state attorney general has set off a political frenzy for his congressional seat that includes two Muslim candidates, both Democrats: Ilhan Omar, the country’s first Somali-American state lawmaker, and Jamal Abdulahi, a Somali-American activist.

But historic wins in those and other races are far from assured, cautions Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political analysis website run by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Omar’s chances of emerging from a field of five Democratic candidates in Minnesota’s Aug. 14 primary was bolstered by a recent endorsement from the state Democratic Party, but El-Sayed is an underdog in his gubernatorial race, he said.

Other Muslim candidates might fare better in Michigan, which has one of the nation’s largest Arab-American populations, Skelley added.

There, former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib has raised more money than her Democratic rivals in the race to succeed Democratic Rep. John Conyers, who resigned last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Former Obama administration official Fayrouz Saad is also running as a Democrat in the wide-open race to succeed Republican Rep. David Trott, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Either could become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, which has only ever had two Muslim members: outgoing Ellison and Rep. Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat seeking re-election.

Saad, who served most recently as director of Detroit’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, recognizes the importance of representing her community in an era of rising Islamophobia.

The 35-year-old broke from the conservative Republican politics of her Lebanese immigrant parents after the 9/11 attacks because she felt Arabs and Muslims were unfairly targeted.

“I felt the way to push back against that was to be at the table,” said Saad, adding that her parents’ political leanings have also since moved to the left. “We have to step up and be voices for our communities and not wait for others to speak on behalf of us.”

But not all Muslim candidates feel that way.

In San Diego, 36-year-old Republican congressional candidate Omar Qudrat declined to comment on how Islamophobia has impacted his campaign, including instances when his faith has been called into question by members of his own political party.

Instead, the 37-year old political newcomer, one of at least three Muslim Republicans running nationwide this year, provided a statement touting his main campaign issues as he faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Scott Peters in November: addressing San Diego’s high number of homeless military veterans, improving public education and expanding economic opportunities for city residents.

“Running for public office is about advancing the interests of your constituents and the American people,” Qudrat’s statement reads. “Nothing else.”

(Philip Marcelo and Jeff Karoub write for The Associated Press.)

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33 Comments

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  • “Omar Qudrat declined to comment on how Islamophobia has impacted his campaign …”

    Seems a good move for a Muslim-American to talk about issues that are not specific to Muslims. It’s an effort to claim agency for Muslims.

  • This is an excellent and important step by Muslim Americans, a step in the integration of a minority group into our democratic processes. It is also brave, especially now, while the very divisive, xenophobic Trump is president. Thank you for standing up, for being the example that reminds us we are a nation that seeks freedom and liberty for all.

  • Spuddie,
    I like and agree with most of your posts. But I am truly puzzled by what appears to me as goading parker12. It seems to me that if trolls are ignored, hey eventually go away, because then they are unable to achieve their goal of disruption.

  • Backlash indeed:

    And why: The Koran and its dictate to rule the world no matter what the means.

  • Hopefully this is a sign that Muslims are thinking about the foundations of the intellectual discourse that we are being fed, thinking about the impact of post-modernism, feminism, individualism, Hegel’s linear view of history and such like.

  • Hey buddy; I sure can. The headline of this article is pure click bait. Instead of celebrating the fact that most all Americans can actually participate in the elect Torel process without persecution should be celebrated; as opposed to non-Muslims not being able to participate in Muslim countries.

  • OK. Nonsense trying to equate an oppressed minority with someone actively seeking to oppress others. Just as I thought.

    BTW bringing up what goes on in autocracies doesn’t help you one bit. There is a reason why Keith Ellison frequently turns up on ISIS hit lists. Because fundamentalists fear and loathe those who actively promote democracy. Including Christian fundamentalists. (Which is why they support Putin and Trump so easily)

  • Certainly not Christian fundamentalists. No matter how hard they pretend to be victims.

    As for the others, name any other religious group whose free exercise rights are attacked as a matter of course in this country. So much so that even the president and his toadies promised to deliberately violate their rights.

  • No Christian Fundamentalists? That can’t be it. There are plenty of them. Yourself included.
    Muslim Americans, there are a bunch of them as well.

    But then again, you weren’t trying to make a coherent point. Just making wildly silly claims of false equivalence.

  • I’m disappointed; you should know I’m not a fundamentalist.
    I call bs on this article and what it is trying to imply.

  • LOL! Riiight. My mistake for trolling you into elaborating. It is just getting incoherent from there. I was better off not seeing what your fevered mind produced. My bad. All apologies to Alexandra

  • Nope. I regret the decision. It has been nothing but written diarrhea on your end.Sometimes it is better to let sleeping dogs lie.

  • The Supreme Court seems to think that the President was not violating their rights.

    But in any case “free exercise” deals with practicing a religion, not entrance to this country.

  • You’re really at wit’s end since the comments closed at National Catholic Reporter aren’t you, Unaduti?

    It just not same when you can’t shoot zingers at Christians.

  • “trying to equate an oppressed minority with someone actively seeking to oppress others”

    Not sure about this.

    This article is silent about the intellectual influences on the Muslim candidates. The candidates could well be influenced by the discourse of some of those autocracies you speak about. Maybe, maybe not.

    In any case, what is your hope or expectation of these candidates? Do you want them to solve substantive problems? If they are to solve substantive problems, wouldn’t they have to be influenced by Western intellectual discourse, e.g., Locke and Kant?

    Let me create a concrete example. Should these Muslim candidates press Saudi Arabia to give permission to Indian residents of Saudi Arabia to build a temple? If the Muslim candidates are loyal to Islam, they cannot press Saudi Arabia. If the Muslim candidates are loyal to Locke and Kant, they would have to press Saudi Arabia.

  • I was talking about Parker12’s comment. Not the article.

    “In any case, what is your hope or expectation of these candidates?”

    Visibility to Americans of the Muslim faith as they engage in the democratic process. Much like any other political candidate from a reviled minority.

    “Should these Muslim candidates press Saudi Arabia to give permission to Indian residents of Saudi Arabia to build a temple?”

    Sure. Anything which cheeses off the autocratic theocrats in charge there gets my approval. Why would this be only an issue for a Muslim political candidate? Given the strong ties between the US, India and Saudi Arabia it can easily be an American issue to pick up.

    “If the Muslim candidates are loyal to Islam, they cannot press Saudi Arabia.”

    Tell that to millions of Yemenis, Kurds, Qataris, Lebanese, Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Palestinians and Iranians, who are currently cursing the existence of Saudi Arabia. Tell that to the millions of Muslims who has been on the receiving end of covert Saudi support of Al Queda and ISIS.

    Are you aware that the Middle East has been in a cold war/proxy war between Saudia Arabia and Iran since 1979?

    I think you overestimate the unity among the nearly 2 billion muslims spread out over the world. You also underestimate the effects of living in a free secular society on its denizens. People like Trump who declare the US to be enemies of Islam do more to support Islamicist terrorism than the beliefs of Muslim Americans.

  • We are not a Muslim nation! We don’t want or trust Muslims. They have an evil agenda and no place in our Government!

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