As provocatively empowering as it may sound, American Muslims should not consider voting as a bloc. None of the terms used to describe Muslims living in the United States; Muslim American, American Muslim, or Muslims in America if you like, describe or represent any single race, class, ethnicity, religious or theological category of Muslim Americans. There is no such thing as a distinct ‘American Muslim perspective’, or a specific American Muslim political aspiration. There is no political platform or published manifesto that legitimately or conclusively represents ‘American Muslim values’. The only thing that can be rightly categorized as genuine Islamic values are those contained in our scriptures and religious texts. Otherwise, American Muslim values are as varied as American values are, and have a wider spectrum of diversity than there are colors in a rainbow.
American Muslims are different, with different views, different aims and goals, different attitudes about religion, different politics, and different sets of allies and adversaries. Even within our faith, there are different philosophies, groups, sects, madh’habi associations, and influences both foreign and domestic. Many Muslims in America are staunch, free and proud individualists not aligned with any particular group, political or otherwise, others are hardwired sectarians.
There are Muslims who are apolitical and care nothing at all about politics, and there are those who politicize nearly everything and would politicize eating a Snickers bar if it served their interests. Despite the falsely propagated narrative that American Muslims are the same with the same politics, domestic trajectory, and aspirations, nothing could be further from the truth. American Muslims have different views on liberalism, race, money, sexuality, islamophobia, morality and moral priority. We also have varying levels of education, insight into American society, national allegiance outside our borders, and patriotism.
Some American Muslims are recent immigrants, some have dual citizenship, some not yet citizens and some were born here having never set foot outside of this country. Of those born here in the United States are the descendants of slaves, as well as second and third generation sons and daughters of immigrants. Some American Muslims are multi-lingual, and others only speak English. Some are refugees with enough problems already than to be pulled further into the bowels of Muslim American politics. As far as political preferences go, some of us are principled individualists, others are theologically sectarian, some are perpetually undecided independents and some, when operating politically, do it from a markedly pronounced tribal or group perspective.
In my view, people who advocate Muslim Americans voting as a bloc are simply opportunists, championing a fanaticized version of reality. According to a 2014 PEW survey, Muslims are less than 1% of the population in America, hardly enough to be considered a ‘make or break’ constituency in any national or federal election. The only things that Muslims in America do as a bloc perhaps are to worship, attend Friday prayer, make Hajj and recognize our two religious holidays; (Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Ad’ha). None of these functions will be affected one way or another way by one presidential candidate winning over the other.
In their enthusiasm to be regarded as a political force, many Muslim mega-organizations mix politics with religion. This enthusiasm, is understandable except that to do that effectively in an advanced constitutional republic like the United States, one must both understand the true essence of the religion of Islam, and the nature of electoral and campaign politics in America. I’m not questioning anyone’s understanding of religion here, but as far as American electoral politics goes, people go into the voting booth as individuals. We don’t have group votes, ethnic votes, tribal votes, or religious votes. Those who want to advance and control a ‘Muslim vote’ in America should go ahead and start their own political party, and be transparent about it so that the rest of us won’t get labeled and typecast by the politics of a few. We do not need at this juncture, opportunistic Muslim politicians seeking brownie points claiming they can deliver the ‘Muslim’ vote.
Muslim Americans who intend to vote, should vote their conscious, and look more to local elections to make a difference. You can vote as a citizen who happens to be Muslim or vote as a Muslim, who happens to be a citizen. In each case, a presidential victory by either Donald J. Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton is not likely to affect whether or not you will go to heaven or whether or not we can pray our five prayers, pay zakat, fast the month of Ramadan or make the Pilgrimage to Mecca. If an American Muslim wants to enhance their level of faith and practice of Islam, then the work must start within ourselves and in our mosques with a focus on faith issues, and the way that we treat people and serve humanity. All of which can be handled outside of the electoral process.
Both the official 2016, 51-page Democratic platform, and the official 58-page Republican platform, contain points that on the one hand support certain aspects of Islam, and on the other, contradict moral axioms of our faith. Otherwise, the political platform of both parties is fundamentally secular in nature. Voting according to your conscious offers the best bang for your electoral buck in the short and long term for American Muslims. At least then, people may start not to lump us all together as some zombie class and start to see that American Muslims are people just like everyone else; each with his or her individual way of looking at things including personal differences, preferences, and religious intensity. In doing so, we would be debunking the idea of the Muslim fifth column in America. An idea that American Muslim organizations extolled, and who by attempting and failing to represent us all, helped to create the stereotype in the first place.
Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Luqman Ahmad is a writer, public speaker, consultant, Imam and Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Del Paso Heights, and President and CEO of Lotus Tree Institute, an American Muslim Think Tank. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donate to our da’wah and educational work and to establish a place of worship by clicking here.