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

Muslim values are those contained in our scriptures and religious texts. American Muslim values, however, are as varied as American values are and have a wider spectrum of diversity than there are colors in a rainbow.


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.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Why American Muslims should not vote as a bloc by Imam Luqman Ahmad”

  1. Brother Imam I applaud you for addressing a very relevant topic. Voting has always been a controversial issue in the American Muslim community & I believe we are constantly evolving & maturing in this area. While many of the points you make about the diversity of American Muslims is indeed true, I have to respectfully disagree with your conclusion. Money and/or votes is what counts in politics. Since we do not currently have the collective institutions to significantly fund a presidential campaign, we must have a large unified voting bloc/PAC/Political Party etc to voice our concerns & make sure laws that protect religious rights are preserved & no new laws are enacted that restrict religious practice or target Muslims (for example the new laws in France forbidding niqab). Furthermore, the things all Muslims agree on like prayer, hajj, fasting, & Eid celebration are still areas Muslims find difficulty in actually practicing. The president just had the first annual Eid celebration at the White House but the days are still not national holidays. By Allah’s permission, a coalition in Philly was able to petition the mayor & city council to recognize the Eid holidays in the school district & will continue to work to have the city recognize them as an official city holiday. This effort was spearheaded by a Muslim councilman that we helped elect. When the bill was introduced to council we filled the council chambers all the way up to 2nd floor… nothing but Muslims in a show of support. It was powerful! It was the unity we displayed on this issue and the numbers we brought out that represented the voters & no doubt the blessing of Allah that blessed us to establish our Eid holidays in the school district for our children for generations to come. After witnessing this, I have no doubt that a national coalition of Muslim leaders/organizations representing Muslim voters could be just as effective at lobbying/petitioning congress & the president for more favorable laws/privileges for Muslims in America. Again, thank you for shining a light on a very important issue. These types of discussions should be had more often. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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    1. Assalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi. Al-humdu lillaah. Jazaaka Allahu khairan for your remarks. I see your point but keep in mind that Philadelphia is unique and unlike any other Muslim metropolis in the United States. There is a sizeable, and established community of Muslims, especially African American Muslims and there is a certain amount of independent thinking as well as a long established relationship between Muslims, local politics, and local politicians some of whom are Muslims themselves. African American Muslims at that. Muslims of all backgrounds are better suited to work on local issues on a region by region basis and Philly is poised for that because of our history. On a national level, African American Muslims would be drowned out from the start and excluded from having our needs addressed if left up to Nation Muslim organizations. Even now, from what I have been told, immigrant led masaajid have formed their own Majlis as-Shura and are working with politicians building on relationships that African American Muslims have established, yet the are excluding those same imams and players who have been at the for front for years. The prevailing American Muslim corporate complex is immigrant led, well funded, has a very large and expansive business base, and have linked communities and organizations all across the country that are well funded, organized, and have firm congregational footing. They have very little interest in African American Muslims having a voice at the table. African American Muslims are at a zero growth rate according to a recent PEW study meaning that for very ten who converts to Islam, ten leave the faith. We are trending backwards as a far as organizational, constituent based representation which is extremely necessary in national politics. Go outside of Philly and take a look at the condition of African American Muslim communities and you’ll see what I mean. Even in the five boroughs of New York, Imam Siraj told me recently that there are less than 10 communities in New York headed by African American Imams or that cater to converts communities in an area that has nearly 100 masaajid. The other point I want to make is that the laws in this country are already favorable for Muslims. That’s why Muslims are trying to get here by the millions upon millions.

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