Muslims must ‘participate’ in U.S. democracy

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SHAFAQNA – The underlying stigma and hatred of Islam perpetuated by national political contenders like Donald Trump has left the 3.3 million Muslims in this country vulnerable and fearful of double standards in their own backyards.

Most recently, Texan participants at the Muslim Day event in Washington, D.C., were denied a meeting with presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz despite their repeated efforts and despite the fact he represents them in Congress.

The climate of fear surrounding Muslims in the news is harmful, and it tends to influence national and local politics in Oklahoma by further excluding an entire community from participating in political office.

The hateful rhetoric is hurtful. It generates a sense of disconnect among the roughly 10,000 to 15,000 Muslims residing in Oklahoma, largely due to a false notion of their religious ideology being at odds with American cultural norms. But that notion is far from the truth.

In a recent Tulsa World commentary, Imam John Ederer refuted and clarified the misconceptions surrounding Islam and its relation to terror, which are owed to ongoing misrepresentation of Islamic scripture in the news. Additionally, upon a recent visit to Tulsa, a local activist confirmed that they have experienced as many as 75 separate incidents of harassment and threats in 2016 alone. According to the Council on American Islamic Relations of Oklahoma (CAIR), attacks on mosques and harassment of Muslims was at an all-time high in 2015.

This culture of fear is dangerous at many levels and is marginalizing an entire community from exercising their constitutional rights to seek public office at various levels of the state. This is evidenced by the lack of substantial Muslim candidates seeking public office in Oklahoma, even in 2016.

Changing demographics and a rise in the next generation of immigrants in Oklahoma is making it imperative for minority groups like Muslim Americans to integrate and participate in the political environment. If nothing else, they can do so by donating time and effort toward volunteering and raising awareness on issues affecting their communities.

A concerted effort is needed to address Muslim disparity in politics by creating venues and resources for non-partisan voter-registration drives, public policy briefs, media tools, public forums and candidate training for political office.

This is particularly true for young voters who feel largely disconnected from the current political climate of partisan and divisive policies. Young people — and young Muslims specifically — are yearning to move forward with progressive ideas that can influence social norms, create safe spaces for people to meet and share ideas, and to bring about change.

The overall value and benefits of being at the decision-making table far outweigh the costs associated with moving Muslim communities forward in America.

By Aisha Shah

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