Political Change in the American Muslim Community
By Samantha Ward
With the political season underway, candidates and students alike are all encouraging more people to vote this year. One student in particular, Aisha Yaqoob, is shifting her focus from general policy work to a group of potential voters often forgotten: American Muslims.
Originally from Suwannee, Georgia, Yaqoob is a second year graduate student finishing up her masters in public administration and policy. This past January she founded the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, an initiative with the goal of registering 2,000 new Muslim voters this year.
Yaqoob said, “Historically, Muslims have been apathetic towards voting, and this year is more important than ever to get the vote out . . . A vast majority of Muslims have parents or are themselves from other countries. . . They’ve lost faith in the political process because of whatever has occurred back home, and so when they come to America they just assume their vote doesn’t count and the system doesn’t work, but I still have faith in the system.”
In their first week, the Georgia Muslim Voter Project registered 150 new voters and has seen a steady growth in new voters since. With a last minute push before the voting season began, this group not only inspired new voters but also encouraged many previously registered Muslim voters to participate in the primaries for the first time.
All of this is done through assisting people with the registration process, engaging with the public online, and holding workshops and seminars to educate fellow Muslims about civic engagement. Their next event is coming up March 12 in the Roswell Community Masjid from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The push for positive Muslim visibility is not just local. CNN iReport started an ongoing project called “Muslim In America,” aimed at featuring Muslims across the nation who are making a positive difference in their communities. Among the seven Muslim women featured with their Instagram launch of the project, Aisha Yaqoob’s work was highlighted in the first post.
On the importance of this type of coverage, Yaqoob said, “In general, anytime you hear about Muslims in any large media, it’s in a bad context. You hear a lot of bad stuff. I think it’s important to highlight the positive stories as well, whether it’s contributions in their communities or contributions to the larger country.”
While this is a big step towards better coverage of the Muslim community, many misunderstandings still arise from news stories that focus on the radical rather than the majority. For those wishing to better understand Islam and what its people stand for, Yaqoob suggests not attributing too much to what you see on TV. Instead, get to know a Muslim yourself, and even visit a mosque if you get the chance.
Overall, in her work Yaqoob hopes not only to engage with the Muslim community politically, but also to form bridges with other minority groups, such as the African-American and Hispanic communities, in the effort to get more people involved in the political process and have their voices heard.