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Trump is getting out the Muslim vote -- against him!

By Aysha Khan/Religion News Service
On March 21, 2016

Salim Jaffer moved to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. His family, along with the rest of the Indian community, had been expelled from Uganda in 1972 under the violent dictator Idi Amin and sought a respite in America.
But he said he’s never felt in danger until this year.

“As a Muslim, I feel threatened,” said Jaffer, a gastroenterologist living in Lansing, Michigan. “It’s as if someone is trying to take away my civil rights. Think about it. Donald Trump thinks we should stop immigration of Muslims coming into this country. Marco Rubio, he wants to close down mosques. Ted Cruz, he wants to see if ‘sand glows’ in Syria.”

That’s why Jaffer participated in his first-ever presidential primary last Tuesday, casting his vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. And it’s the reason he, a doctor who only superficially followed politics for most of his life, has just submitted paperwork to register a new nonprofit organization aimed at getting Midwestern Muslims to vote in November.

“From a Muslim standpoint, we’ve got to make sure we get somebody who is sympathetic to our cause and understands the sociology, the theology, the anthropology and the history of Islam,” said Jaffer.

With Trump leading the Republican race, Muslim groups are launching voter registration drives in a push to ensure that the Islamophobic rhetoric of the election campaign is rejected at the polls.

“Anti-Muslim rhetoric is motivating Muslim Americans across the country to engage in the political process like never before,” Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told RNS. “This is true in Minnesota, as well as in swing states like Virginia and Florida where Muslim Americans will play a critical role on Election Day.”

Almost three-quarters of Muslim voters plan to vote in state primaries this year, according to data from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“If you as a political candidate chose to spew hatred, bigotry and to vilify Muslim Americans, you do so at your own political risk,” Altaf Husain, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, declared at a press conference in December. “We will use every democratic means and political strategy to ensure your candidacy never succeeds.”

Earlier this month, Trump said Islam had a “tremendous hatred” of the West. In December, he called for a “total and complete” shutdown of Muslim immigration to the U.S. He has claimed that American Muslims celebrated the attacks on Sept. 9, 2011, and said Muslims should carry a special ID. Last month, he recounted as fact an old debunked myth about a general executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.

And he’s won primaries or caucuses in 15 states so far.

Younger and more liberal Muslim voters are overwhelmingly in favor of Sanders, who has campaigned strategically with Muslim and Arab communities by visiting mosques, giving an hour-long speech against Islamophobia and airing Arabic-language ads in the city with the highest Arab concentration.

Civic leaders are harnessing this energy to mobilize voters.

Teams in Los Angeles; San Diego, California; New York City; San Francisco and tens of other cities are organizing electoral engagement on the ground. Organizing platform MPower Change’s new campaign urges supporters to pledge “to make sure that this election will no longer be about us, without us,” through media and voter engagement.

“Turn your centers, Islamic centers, mosques into registration centers for voters, into polling stations during the election time,” CAIR’s Nihad Awad said on stage at a major Islamic conference in Chicago. “We have to register every single Muslim to vote in 2016.”

“Trump is using the rhetoric of fear and bigotry to mobilize support around him in a time of economic uncertainty,” explained Safi, who has endorsed Sanders. “Many Muslims are starting to recognize that it’s not about persuading people that Muslims are human. It’s ultimately about building the beloved community here in America, as Dr. King used to say.”

Aysha Khan reports for RNS.

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