Muslims in American Politics?

Emmanuel Dunand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Muslim women at an Obama rally in February. Last week, two Muslim women were not allowed to appear behind the candidate.

This is one of those topics that I frequently visit.  I truly believe that not only should Muslims engage in American politics, but also that we need a transcendent American Muslim agenda that not only incorporates our hopes and desires but also encompasses varied and similar ideals of other groups.  I am truly convinced that by not having an agenda we allow ourselves to have no representation and therefore, no say in our own governance.  When you don’t have a collective voice you allow other groups to define who you are and they are free to undervalue, underestimate, and marginalize you.

We see this very lack of having an agenda ever present in the current election cycle.  As Muslims we have allowed ourselves to be used as a political wedge issue on many fronts.

Just the word “Muslim” or “Islam” has been used as a slur, a political attack method, and a propaganda tool.

Islam has been linked with terrorism, fascism, and many other non-Islamic ideas.  Yet we are powerless as a body to address this.

Our very identity and faith has been used as a weapon against the presumptive Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama.   Once again, we are powerless as a body to address that.

In the formulation of domestic and foreign policy, as tax paying, law abiding, American citizens our concerns are ignored as we are powerless to address them because of the stigma associated with who we are.

This has led to two recent and several longstanding issues in the election cycle.  On almost every front from both parties, interests in foreign policy have not considered our views, nor on domestic policy, this is often justified due to a war on terror, yet “terror” is only associated with Islam.

Barack Obama has had to constantly deny being a Muslim, affiliated with Muslims, etc. so much that it appears that being Muslim is some kind of plague or virus that no one wants to catch.  He has to go through great pains to prove he has a clean bill of health, because the ideal is to be Christian and Muslim is a sickness.

This has led to numerous discussions within and between individual Muslims and Muslim communities as to how we proceed in this election cycle.  On one hand, we have a party that has hostile intentions and actions in Muslim lands whose electorate by and large has been accused of supporting members who have called for our annihilation, destruction of our holy places, and defamed our religion in a myriad of ways.  On the other hand, we have a party that appears to be sympathetic to our cause, with an attractive candidate, yet he acts as if we are a disease he can’t afford to catch.

Look at the recent issue about the two Muslim sisters who were not allowed to stand behind Obama for fear of what it looks like?  Well what does it look like?  God forbid Obama is shown with Muslims!

Now we can look at this two different ways:

1:  It’s an insult because we are Americans too!

2:  It’s political posturing and the nature of the beast.

I humbly believe that it’s both and to many degrees it’s our own fault.  If we came together with a set agenda, voting base, and collective thoughts we would have to worry about either.


Well if you had a sustained base with a voting bloc, then both parties would have a vested interest in courting you therefore, they would go out of their way to not insult you and sit with you.  So it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be seen with you but a good thing.

Also, with a level of respect and power that comes from sustained efforts, it would be political suicide to treat said body in a way that diminishes how they view themselves.

Look what happens if you insult Jews or Jewish interests?  The Jewish voting bloc have been extremely wise and have ensured that they can never be undervalued, underestimated, or marginalized.  So much so, that you have to seek out their blessing just to be politically viable.  There is much to learn in this example for many communities, especially Muslims.

If Muslims had similar organization our interests foreign and domestic would be courted and you would never be able to say the things in the media that is said about us.

So what are we to do now?

Well, unfortunately we helped create this beast.  Therefore, there isn’t much we can do this election cycle unless of course we organize really fast.  So we have a big pill we have to swallow.

We have to decide who we want in office in January.  Once we do that we have to roll with the punches to ensure that candidate does in fact get there.  We have to accept that we are the political wedge issue and their will be things done and said that are not right, that we won’t like, and in many ways disrespect who we are, but we have to also realize that due to the nature of politics at this stage that we helped create, anything we do to highlight our fouls will only be used to advance the negative smear against us and will probably hurt more than help.

So how do we get our needs addressed in the interim?  Well we have to organize and in private let the campaigns know that we will hold their feet to the fire if elected.  But you better believe that they will not listen unless we have numbers.

By most accounts there are between 2-6 million Muslims in the US.  I am willing to bet that there are at least 1 million Muslims that can and will be eligible to vote in November.  If we can get those 1 million or more to agree to one agenda and vote in bloc, I’m certain the candidates will listen.

However, if we refuse to get together, it really doesn’t matter who is elected our needs and issues will be ignored or put on the back burner in lieu of other groups who may at times even be diametrically opposed to us.  In this sense, we are our own worse enemies.

Lastly, we have to get involved at the grass roots and develop leadership within our ranks.  No one will know who we are unless we are out there with them.  We need to be at the forefront of every national debate especially if it concerns us.  Peace rallies, Pro-life, Gay Marriage, Immigration, etc.  wherever we fall on the political spectrum we should be there too.  Furthermore, we have to develop viable candidates that we can put forward from our communities that represent not only us, but also their various constituencies.

We have generations of American Muslims at every level of American citizenry.  Veterans, doctors, lawyers, community organizers, etc. we have among our ranks.  There is no reason why we can’t put forward Muslim candidates for both parties.

This topic obviously cannot be contained in one post.  I will be discussing this throughout the year and also tonight on my radio show “The American Muslim” at 9pm ET.  Feel free to contact me through email especially on facebook through my group (s) “The Progressive Muslim Network”, “American Muslims for Change” and “The People of Abraham”.

Peace and Blessings,

Robert Salaam

Related Articles:

Cohen: Why Obama should visit a mosque

Muslims barred from picture at Obama event

Barack Obama: I’m no Muslim

The American Muslim Community’s “Obama” Problem

Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama


  1. So just what is this Muslim Agenda and why do think that America at large will tolerate it with anything resembling good grace? The Jews are generally reviled by the populous though supported by the politicians – it’s amazing what money can do. The Christians are equally reviled by much of the population when they try to further a Christian agenda. What makes you believe that Muslims will fare any better?

    If you identify as anything other than American – especially if you identify as something BEFORE American – there’s little hope for your broad acceptance.

    I think your latter suggestions about joining in movements that affect or address American issues is a good one though. Muslims need to show that they’re Americans and have the same issues as the rest of us. When you’re one more – albeit possibly covered – face in the crowd, most of the prejudices will be ended.


  2. The as yet defined Muslim Agenda should be one that encompasses broader American ideals and positions yet at the same time be able to highlight issues that may uniquely or mainly affect our communities, such as discriminatory practices in varied situations (work, education, housing, business, banking), racial profiling, etc.

    These issues do not have to be exclusively religious in nature, but more often than not will have a basis in our religious understanding of issues. Like issues on abortion, marriage, society at large, justice, etc.

    What we would find out is that while these issue are “Muslim” they are most likely in line with a broad swath of American society. However, the only way to ensure they are addressed as a community is to present them as a voting bloc alongside like-minded allies.


  3. Doesn’t particularly sound like a “Muslim agenda.” It mostly sounds like a normal minority agenda.

    You mention racial profiling, but that is more a result of “arabaphobia” as opposed to Islamaphobia. Of course most of America’s terrorist enemies are Muslims, so a certain amount of extra scrutiny is logical.

    Frankly, I think your idea is doomed – not because America isn’t willing to let it work, but because Islam is a religion and its adherents all have their own issues beyond the religion. Hellfire, even the terrorists misusing Islam have agendas and issues that range very far afield from Islam.

    I lived for 3 years in north Africa and the Middle East and didn’t notice that much difference in the goals and motivations of the “people on the street.”


  4. One question, do you see Barack Obama attacking a Muslim country in the future? If you have any doubt in answering no then I think you should re-consider your stance about Obama. ANY US President elect have had only ONE POLICY towards Israel and the Muslim World. This will remain indefinetly or until Muslims throughout the world renounce Islam.

    You can build as many voting blocks as you want, the web of the political system will keep your efforts wasted and undermined.


  5. I respectfully disagree. The whole point of this post was about getting together to help change policy. The current policy is skewed because groups have done exactly what I suggest US Muslims do. As long as we continue with our lack of optimism, division, and burying our head in the sand, then of course the current trajectory will continue. I personally believe that a Democratic President has no interest in waging war with another “Muslim” country, that would be the anti-thesis of their foreign policy platform. As well as other policies, well those are dictated by interests, agenda’s, and votes. Basically, if we don’t like it, organize and change it. That’s what’s great about America. The US political system is organized around this basic principle. Don’t blame the Jews for doing what we choose not to.


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