The Council on American-Islamic Relations has launched an initiative to encourage political awareness and involvement among Islamic communities in preparation for the November elections.
As part of the campaign, #CAIR2Vote, CAIR has organized voter registration drives across the country, educating individuals about the political process through outreach and creating voter guides geared specifically toward Muslim voters, said Adam Soltani, executive director of the organization’s Oklahoma branch. The nonprofit has even been on campus at the request of the OU Muslim Student Association to encourage voter registration among students, regardless of ethnicity or beliefs.
Promoting political action is nothing new for CAIR, but Soltani said this election cycle has been a period of firsts.
“Now more than ever, we’ve seen anti-Muslim hate rhetoric and Islamophobia go from, you know, people like Rep. John Bennett, who, on a local level, or a state level, or on a small scale, promote their own brand of bigotry and racism. To now, where the first time in ever, we have seen this massive amount of hate rhetoric on a national scale,” Soltani said.
Anna Facci, CAIR Oklahoma operations and events coordinator, said she worked side by side with Soltani in launching #CAIR2Vote, as well as many other initiatives, and she believes that political inaction within the Muslim community is potentially hazardous.
“In the United States, we have seen what happens when underserved communities are not represented by their elected officials, which is that they get left out of the narrative,” Facci said.
CAIR is not alone in its concerns surrounding the current political climate in America; members of the OU Muslim Student Association also feel there is much at stake in the coming weeks, said Amanah Fatima, microbiology junior.
“I think with the political environment that exists right now in our country, it’s especially important for us to be civically engaged and involved in the political process,” Fatima said. “Now more than ever.”
In 2015, there was a 78 percent increase in hate crimes against the Muslim community in 20 states, 29 percent higher than the previous year which surveyed the country, according to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Fatima said she fears this trend will continue, and although the exact causes behind the increase in violence have not been proven, she feels much of the blame can be placed at the feet of a particular presidential candidate as easily as the rest of the nation.
“I didn’t think (Donald Trump) would get this far,” Fatima said. “I thought people would see his bigotry for what it is and end it right there. I really think it’s a reflection on the sentiment that exists in our society as a whole right now that he’s even made it this far.”
Fatima said she has never been attacked for her faith, but believes Islamophobia has touched her life in many ways that crime statistics cannot capture.
“When you think of Islamophobia, you can’t think of just direct assault or physical and verbal abuse,” Fatima said. “You have to think of it in psychological terms as well. The fact that I’m scared to go to the Mosque, I think, is a product of Islamophobia.”
Soltani and Fatima said they realize changing a mindset of fear and mistrust is a long process and not a problem that can be solved with an election, but the political spheres they see as fueling the Islamophobic fire can be shaken up at the voting booth.
“If we’re not happy with our elected leaders, if they’re promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric, or hatred, bigotry, or they’re not representing us as a country, as a state, then we have the power to elect people who will,” Soltani said. “That’s where we need to voice our concerns, is at the polls, because the only way we can make something change is by getting people in office that will work toward making it a better state and country.”