OHIO – With her first sustained Muslim outreach director, Hillary Clinton has become the first major party nominee to hire a Muslim to win the votes of the religious minority during next presidential election in November.
“Reaching out to Muslim-Americans is not a numbers-driven game for the campaign,” Farooq Mitha, the outreach director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, told Huffington Post.
“Muslim-Americans have been part of this country for centuries and have a long history here, and have been contributors to the United States across many fields ― entrepreneurs, job creators, teachers, firemen, police officers. It’s a community that’s very important.”
Over the past months, Mitha met with Muslim communities in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio to convince them to vote for Clinton in November.
The step to hire a Muslim outreach director comes in a year marred by anti-Muslim tirades led by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Muslims make up approximately 1 percent of the US population, or about 3.3 million people.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is undertaking a large voter registration drive, around 824,000 Muslims were registered in June 2016 to vote.
In states like Florida, Michigan and Virginia, Muslims have become a large enough group to make them able to sway a close election.
The Clinton campaign also hopes that organizing in Muslim communities will help them in states like Ohio.
The campaign also opened an office in Toledo last July, hiring Mohamed Gula to lead organizing efforts for the Muslim community.
“I’ve made it my personal objective to ensure that this election is not going to be about Muslims without Muslims. It’s no longer going to be without us, or about us without us,” Gula said.
“That’s one of the main reasons I felt the need to really be a part of the campaign.”
Gula and the campaign hosted an iftar dinner during this year’s Ramadan. They registered voters during the holiday of `Eid and held registration drives after Friday night prayers
“Being able to be present, and really listen to what concerns the community has had, has been extremely important, I think, to anybody,” he said.
The several steps taken by Clinton campaign has resulted in building bonds and trust that can lead to a more politically engaged community.
“This campaign understands that the community isn’t monolithic, and part of that is just identifying that and making sure that we’re talking to people about the issues they care about,” Zara Rahim, the communications lead for Clinton’s Muslim outreach team, said.
“A lot of that means listening sessions. It means figuring out… what issues are most important to them, and how do we apply that to our ground game.”
Throughout the 80s and well through the 2000s, there has been an influx of first generation Muslim immigrants that have witnessed firsthand the effect of such policies on the region.
Historically, prior to 9/11, Muslims have tended to be a mixed bag when it came between choosing Republican or Democrat.
According to the New York times, “In 2000, a few hundred votes decided the election; an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Florida voted for Bush”, it shows Muslim attitudes prior to 9/11, were at times, aligned towards more Conservative issues and values that were represented by the Republican Party. (Senzai, F., 2012)
Almost immediately after the ‘war on terror’, voter attitudes shifted dramatically among Muslims. According to the same article:
Overall, the path between 2000 and the 2016 election has been paved with a mix of cautious optimism among Muslims, complete distrust of the candidates, and at times, even strong support for Liberal, and far right candidates as well.
Unsurprisingly, the open Islamophobia of the Trump campaign is the biggest issue Clinton’s Muslim outreach team has heard about in their listening sessions.
“The number one thing people are really saying to me right now is that they’re scared for the future of the community in this country,” Mitha said.
“They’re scared for their kids to go to school. The rhetoric they hear in our political and civic space is at a level that they’ve never experienced before.”
“What the Trump campaign has done is, it has created a platform for hate rhetoric,” Gula said.
“It has given people the confidence to be able to speak out openly about how they feel about Muslims. And that’s why I say that it has actually gotten worse. I’ve had more hate rhetoric now than I did post-9/11.”
“Reaching out and being engaged from the get-go was really important, and we’ve been building on that,” Mitha said.
The campaign’s outreach also focuses on engaging Muslims in the election like every other group, calling voters and knocking on doors.
“I want… an everyday Joe to be able to hear ‘Hello, this is Mohamed, how are you doing today?’” Gula said.
“I think that’s more powerful than anything. I think that’s more powerful than Mohamed calling Mohamed … For [Muslims] to be able to hear some of what people have to say is key.”
Oumeima Djema, a Toledo high school sophomore, is one of Gula’s volunteers doing just this.
“I think, Muslim or not, it’s very important to, like, know what’s going on in the community and what’s going on in the country. Because if you take away that Muslim title, I’m still a member of the community and I’m a citizen of the United States,” she said.
“I want someone good to lead our country and bring it to greatness.”