Why American Muslims should not vote as a bloc by Imam Luqman Ahmad

blogvoteph2016As 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. additionally, none of these terms in any practical sense, is used to describe all of us. 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’ as a whole or American Muslims as a  whole, so in reality there is no such thing as a Muslim bloc vote. 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 and will follow their group though to the end.

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 are not yet citizens and some were born here having never set foot outside of this country. Of those born here in the United States, there 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, vote the issues that are most likely to affect them, 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 and much of the same excrement. 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 degree religious influence and consideration. In doing so, we would be debunking the idea of the Muslim fifth column in America.  An idea that American Muslim organizations inadvertently helped to perpetuate, and who by attempting and failing to represent us all, helped to create 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 imamluqman@icdph.org. Donate to our da’wah and educational work and to establish a place of worship by clicking here.




Black Lives Matter. But How Much and to Whom?

black-lives-matterBlack Americans are the most oppressed, most despised, most marginalized people in the United States, and for the basest and most immutable reason; simply because they are Black. This type of racial oppression and injustice is not only a crime against people, but a crime against God, and a rejection of His Sovereignty and His attributes of Completeness and Perfection. According to the Islamic faith, differences in peoples’ language and color are signs of Allah and not badges of superiority or inferiority. “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge“. 30:22

What makes racism so heinous a crime against God is that it subverts the message of a just God, that people are judged by what is inside, not by what is outside. The Prophet (SAWS) “Verily Allah does not look at your shapes or your attire, but He looks at your hearts and your deeds“. [Muslim]. Black people in America are not oppressed because of their religion, their politics, their occupations, their choices of clothes, cars, or houses; Blacks suffer oppression in the United States simply because of the color of their skin; a color which was chosen by their Creator. “It is He who fashions you in the womb in whatever way He chooses.” 3:6

The first racist act known to man originated from none other than the devil himself. God said, “What prevented thee from submitting when I commanded thee?’ He said, ‘I am better than he. Thou hast created me of fire while him hast thou created of clay.” 7:12 This shows that racial discrimination was a crime against God even before it was a crime against man. As an African American, I find racial injustice repugnant to the highest degree, and as a Muslim, I find it especially abhorrent because it is in defiance of the Lord.

Racism is one of the premier issues of our time, and Muslims, although they don’t realize it, are right in the middle of it. When Muslims engage in the practice of racism, exploit the slave mentality amongst Blacks in America, and assume the role of the master, it is no less a crime against God, a rejection of His sovereignty and an assault upon tawhid [monotheism]. “Verily the most honored of you to Allah are the most God-fearing of you.” 49:13

Although I’m not the protestor on the street, make a lot of noise, sign carrying type of person, I understand the ideals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black people are routinely shot, killed, arrested, manhandled and harassed by police officers in this country for no other reason except that they are Black. The protests and the movement are meant to bring attention to this travesty, and for it to stop. I get that.  We decry police brutality and excessive violence and rightly so but the police save more Black lives than they oppress becase if we didn’t have them in the hood, we’d probably kill each other even more. Brother look over their shoulders for the police and the brother right next to him ends up being the one who turns on him. So while we wait for the system and the culture of institutional racism to change, we ourselves need to make some changes in the interim.

For Black Lives to matter, Black lives have to first, matter to Blacks more than they matter to non-Blacks. That would necessitate that we protest more when we kill each other than when others kill us, that we monitor our families more than we follow families on television, and that we respect our own wealth more than we support the corporations that market their products to us.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let us consider that all White police officers are not racist – and not all of them, or even a majority of them – are out to kill, assault, oppress or deny African Americans their human rights, their constitutional rights or rights granted to them by God Almighty. We should also recognize that there does exist a culture of crime, violence and family breakdown in the black community that creates an impression, that in some ways, Black lives do not matter to Black people in the ways that they should.

On the other hand, when it comes to dollars and cents, Black lives matter a whole lot to many people. From the profit-driven prison industrial complex which depends on high percentages of African American males to spend time in jail, to the thousands of local municipalities in America that salivate over revenue gained from disproportionately issued traffic citations, municipal ordinances and petty fines for African American residents, Black lives matter in real dollars and cents. To the many business interests who profit from racially biased policies, laws, and ghettoes, Black lives matter in bllions of dollars.

Court-appointed attorneys value the lives of poor Blacks because they make a living off of them by pretending to defend them in a racially biased criminal justice system. Sometimes they even make a collegiate attempt to work on their behalf, defend them earnestly, and seek acquittals. Either way, it’s their livelihood, it pays the bills, and it is done disproportionately off the backs of Black Americans.

Black lives indeed matter to the false hair, false nails, and false eyelash industry that rake in billions a year supplying Black women (and men) with a wide assortment of falsities. Black lives certainly mattered to the subprime lenders, banks, and mortgage brokers, who became multi-billionaires by way of unscrupulous lending and left poor unsuspecting families – disproportionately African-American – in debt and without homes.

Black lives matter to auto insurance companies to the tune of about $800 more per year, per driver. Black lives matter to the party and liquor store owners, many with names like Muhammad, Abdullah, and Ibrahim, who send their kids to college with profits earned from outrageously priced groceries, a full range of liquid intoxicants, and the sale of candy-colored rolls of lottery tickets.

The companies that make and supply marijuana rolling papers and blunt wrappers can appreciate that Black lives matter since Blacks helped create a whole new industry for them on a silver platter. Black lives matter a whole lot to the abortion clinics and organizations like Planned Parenthood that rake in billions each year off Black abortions. So all this fuss about Black lives matter needs to be put into perspective; it would indeed seem that black lives matter to everyone else except blacks.

The cold truth is that Black lives matter to the people who profit from Black Americans. From the media and pundits who make money off covering and pontificating about the rallies, and the protests, to the millions of dollars in law enforcement overtime and hazard pay generated when people take to the streets. People and corporations are making money off the politics and economics of racism, but it’s not going back to the communities that need it. Then we return home from the protests and marches with souvenirs, selfies, and stories to tell the kids and Grandkids, but the conditions in the neighborhoods stay the same.

Police brutality, deeply-entrenched institutional racism, and injustice against Blacks and other minorities in America is real. Although we have made tremendous progress since slavery, and since th days of Jim Crow, we are far away from being at the end of this struggle. Part of that struggle needs to be an honest and intrepid self-assessment about what we may need to change in ourselves, and what we can do to improve our condition.“Verily Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves“. 13:11. As Black American Muslims, our community deals with the effects of racism on several fronts simultaneously. From neo-Jim Crowism and institutionalized racism that begins before birth, to our own slave mentality, self-hate, and crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome, to the racism, racial bias and marginalization we find in Muslim America.

Racism in the American Muslim community negatively impacts not only the way many new Muslims perceive the culture of Islam, if affects the way non-Muslims view Muslims and the religion of Islam as well. More disturbingly, it impacts in monumental ways, the trajectory of Muslim communities where converts are the majority, as well as the ones in which they are a minority.  So given the prominence of race in our national domestic dialogue, when will the American Muslim community step up to the plate and be open and honest about race relations in our own religious community? When will we unpack that conversation beyond the usual party line? We hardly even want to admit that it is a problem. As race relations have improved in America, it has done nothing but deteriorate in the American Muslim community. This is the truth whether we care to admit it or not.

This whole conversation about race in America is a teachable moment for American Muslims. Racism is a moral issue at its core, and has to do with the way we view and understand God Almighty. If you are a Muslim and think that this issue has nothing to do with you. Think again.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

Imam Luqman Ahmad is an associate Imam and resident scholar at the Toledo Masjid al-Islam in Toledo Ohio. He can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com

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