Islamophobia prompts Muslims to engage in US democracy
American Muslims reported a higher number of incidents of discrimination this past year than any other religious group, but growing Islamophobia has pushed them to become more politically engaged, according to Muslim leaders, pollsters and activists.
The third annual poll published this week by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a think-tank based in Washington, DC, and Michigan, found that hate crimes against Muslims increased to an unprecedented level during Donald Trump's presidential campaign and following his election in late 2016.
Measuring the level of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US through its first-ever national Islamophobia Index, the survey, titled Pride and Prejudice, showed that while Muslims only comprise one percent of the population, their community occupies an outsized role in the American popular psyche.
The poll of approximately 2,500 Americans from different faiths debunked some of the most incendiary and widely believed tropes about American Muslims, such as their responsibility for most "terrorist" attacks in the US – the majority of which are carried out by white supremacists.
One of the ways of pushing back against Islamophobia, US Muslims have found, is becoming more politically active and engage in electoral politics to change what they see as a biased shift in their country.
"The bright side of all of this is that over the past several years Muslims have climbed steadily in the percentage that report being registered to vote," said Dalia Mogahed, ISPU's director of research and former adviser on Muslim affairs during the Barack Obama administration.
"While things have gotten a lot harder, the response in many cases is greater engagement, not isolation … Muslims are less satisfied with the direction of the country but they are more politically engaged."
The poll found that almost 75 percent of Muslims said they were registered to vote, an increase of seven percentage points over last year's numbers. That reflects was a steady increase, as last tally itself was eight percentage points higher than the 2016 mark, the report said.
More than 90 American Muslims, nearly all of them Democrats, are running for public office across the country this year, an unprecedented number that marks an exceptional rise for a diverse group that typically has been underrepresented in American politics.
"We are experiencing – for the first time – the level of discrimination that we would talk about for a decade as a community," Hamza Khan, a Democratic candidate for state delegate in Maryland and director of the Pluralism Project, a hybrid Political Action Committee (PAC) established in 2017 to support Muslim and other progressive candidates.
A hybrid PAC is part traditional political action committee and part super PAC – a group that can accept unlimited political donations.
"Now that we are physically experiencing the after-effects of not participating in democracy, people are realising that the only way to protect themselves is to be a part of democracy," Khan said.
The Pluralism Project is supporting various candidates across the US, including Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, who in 2008 became the first Muslim woman to be elected as state representative.