Saifi Raniwala walks his first precinct for Democratic Congressional candidate Jerry McNerney.
When a community is stereotyped and stigmatized by the majority, one way out can be voting and contesting for political influence. Many Muslim-Americans took this route in the 2006 midterms.
For many, the sign of Muslim success is the election to Congress of Democrat Keith Ellison in Minneapolis; Ellison is an African American convert to Islam. Elections researcher Louise Cainkar of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois-Chicago comments on Ellison's win:
That comparison, though sympathetically intended, actually contains a misconception. Not all U.S. Muslims are newcomers. Though it is estimated that currently 70 percent are foreign born, their religion has been a largely hidden current in this country since the first African slaves were brought here in 1619, some bringing their Muslimm faith with them.
Mukit Hossain headed up a 2006 voter registration drive for the Muslim American Society. He explains Muslim activism:
In addition to civil liberties concerns, polls report that Muslim citizens expressed other views they hoped to carry into the mainstream through participating in the election.
Electing one Muslim Congressman may not have been the most important measure of Muslim success in the recent midterms. Rather, perceived injustice domestically and in U.S. foreign policy mobilized Muslims throughout the country. Many, like Saifi Raniwala pictured above, took active roles in campaigns, acquiring valuable experience of the nuts and bolts of political mobilization. They voted heavily for Democrats. What stands out is how widespread this mobilization and excitement became.
- In Virginia, Mukit Hossain, in his role as president of the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, said his group [was] working to mobilize voters to get out and vote. "I think we can make sizeable impacts." He estimated that there were 60,000 Muslim voters in Virginia and worked to turn them out for winning Democratic Senate candidate James Webb.
- In Worcester, Massachusetts, Muslims worked for Democratic nominee for Governor Deval Patrick. The Republican incumbent, Mitt Romney, had suggested bugging mosques in the name of national security. "Mr. [Tahir] Ali said many Muslims are actively involved in Mr. Patrick’s campaign, with many manning phone banks and doing other campaign chores."
- In Chicago the local affiliate of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) focused its organizing efforts on Illinois' 3rd Congressional District, which includes Chicago's southwest suburbs, where it registered over 1000 voters. "The Muslim community needs to take part in everyday civic activity to set an agenda based on their needs," [Sadiya] Ahmed said.
- In Chattanooga, Tennessee, some Muslim voters felt rejected by Republicans, but welcomed outreach from Democrats. "Chattanooga resident Salih Acarbulut said American Muslims, though they are well integrated, have to deal with misconceptions about Islamic values. 'The biggest issue that we see as Muslims is the notion that Muslims are anti-American,' Mr. Acarbulut said. 'The administration and the media have sold that idea, and that’s really probably the most painful part.'"
- In Minnesota, Ellison's campaign directly inspired new Muslim political activity. Cory Saylor of the local CAIR chapter explained: "the use of fear tactics actually reinforces the message we've been giving the (Muslim) community.... America guarantees civil rights, but you have to stand up and earn them." Muslims can make their voices heard by contacting their representatives and letting them know what issues are most important to them, he said. "The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease...."
- In the highly contested state of Ohio, CAIR-sponsored exit polls showed 90 percent of Muslims voting Democratic in the races for governor, the U.S. House and Senate. "I think you can almost say it was a mandate on issues that had been implemented by the Bush administration," [Adnan Mirza] said.
- In Seattle, columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. reported the excitement of new citizen voter, Abdinasir Ali Nur from Somalia.
- On Long Island, Muslims mobilized to defeat Republican Congressman Peter King who claimed their mosque was run by extremists. Mosque official Faroque Khan described community reaction: "'I can tell you the community is energized,' said Khan, estimating he knew of 'at least 20 to 30' local Muslims working in phone banks and on get-out-the-vote drives for [Democratic challenger Dave] Mejias." In this case, King survived the challenge.
- However in California's Central Valley, Muslims did their part to replace sleazy Republican Congressman Richard Pombo with Democrat Jerry McNerney. Saifi Raniwala met with Jerry, then organized a community meeting and fundraiser that brought out some 50 people from a community he estimated includes some 1500 voters. "It was a start," Raniwala said. With others, he took to the phones to encourage the community to vote. McNerney's weakness had always been in the valley towns where the Muslims are located. McNerney lost that part of the district by the tiny margin of 1244 votes, while winning heavily in all the other areas. Muslims were certainly part of lowering Pombo's margin in San Joaquin County, thereby enabling McNerney's win. Raniwala and his family are shown below with their new Representative.