Electing Leaders With Our Best Interests In Mind

by Rehan Zafar, Summer 2018 InternJun 29, 2018

Oklahoma voters showed up in record numbers to the polls on June 26th, 2018, for the Oklahoma Primary Election. Many incumbents lost their seats, and many will face runoffs in August. This election saw a record number of candidates, a record number of women running, and plethora of teachers taking matters into their own hands. Oklahomans sent a clear message to our legislators: if they fail to act, we will vote them out.

The primary election was the just the beginning. In November, we will elect a new Governor, a new set of state legislators, new congressional representatives, and several executive and judicial officials. In these coming months, we must think about the future we want for our state.

In danger of accepting the unacceptable

Given the current political climate, many of us have become numb to the constant bombardment of hostility and indecency in our politics. We shrug at a state legislator’s racist tweets and Facebook posts. We sigh when we watch images of children in detention centers on the Southern Border. We turn our heads when the Supreme Court upholds an unconstitutional Muslim ban. As Muslims, we are in danger of accepting the unacceptable.

Islamophobic propaganda machines seek to place mistrust and cynicism for the United States in the hearts of Muslims. They want Muslims to refrain from voting, to avoid watching the news, to accept bigotry and prejudice as a characteristic of America. They want Muslims to lose faith in American government, to shed their American identity and retreat into their corners.

Striving for our future as Oklahomans

Our politics exhaust us, but we must strive for our future as Oklahomans. We must do it for ourselves, for our families, for our community, and perhaps most importantly, so that future generations may not have to endure the same challenges that we currently experience. Entering these months before the general election, I want us to consider the following:

  1. Your vote does matter. In a democratic society, voting is your way of being heard. Votes have elected the leaders of the past and they will elect the leaders of the future.
  2. Stay informed. Often, hearing about what the government or politicians are doing elevates your blood pressure and stress levels. This leads to media burnout. Setting a specific time, once a day, to read or watch the news will prevent media burnout while keeping you informed.
  3. If you personally have never had an experience with prejudice or discrimination, it does not mean that other Muslims have not. It is important to take into account your class, privilege, education, employment, gender, and race. A Muslim man working for a Fortune 500 company will have a different experience than a Muslim hijabi woman working at a retail store.
  4. Electing sensible leaders into our government will empower Muslims across the globe. As Muslims, we have a concern for the ummah (the worldwide community of Muslims), from the humanitarian crisis in Syria to religious and ethnic conflict in Palestine. When we elect new congressional representatives, they will be able to pass legislation that provides aid oversees, implement and enhance refugee programs, and empower non-profits that already provide services and aide to Muslims in vulnerable areas.
  5. Research candidates carefully. For the general election, the choices become narrower, so reading biographies, political platforms, and public perception becomes easier. Look for candidates with a vision and plan for Oklahoma that you would feel empowered to thrive in. Ask yourself, “Does this candidate care about me – as an Oklahoman, an American, and a Muslim?”

The past year and half has felt like a decade. We have seen teachers strike, Muslim Ban 1.0-3.0, two Women’s Marches, a racist Oklahoma House of Representatives chaplain policy, a pig carcass thrown in front of a mosque in Lawton, a gun violence prevention movement led by teenagers, and much more. News is breaking so quickly and so often it can feel impossible to keep up. But as Muslims, civic engagement will reaffirm our place as Americans and Oklahomans and elect leaders that will have our best interest.