PHILADELPHIA – As Democrats gathered from around the country to nominate Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential candidate, Muslim leaders gathered to push the community to vote and challenge the growing problem of Islamophobia.
“You don’t have to go to Canada, just register and vote,” Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told members of the Muslim community who had come to Philadelphia for the four-day event, Aljazeera reported on Tuesday, July 26.
“We can defeat hate,” he added.
“Islamophobia is not a Muslim issue, it’s an American issue. Hate crimes are on the rise. The biggest victim of Islamophobia is America and its future prospect.”
Awad was speaking on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention, which kicked off Monday, July 25, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Muslim efforts to encourage more voters accelerated after Republican nominee Donald Trump called for Muslims to be banned from entering the US, making it a centrepiece of his candidacy.
Last week, in an interview with 60 Minutes, Trump called for “vetting” people hailing from countries with a history of “terror”.
“This is not like prior elections where we are debating the role of government, whether taxes should be higher or lower and the like,” said Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
“We never had a leader of a major party openly calling for religious hate against a particular community.”
A recent report found that more than 70 groups in the US were contributing to some extent to propagating Islamophobia.
Released by CAIR and the University of California Berkeley’s Centre for Race and Gender, the report said 33 of those groups have a primary purpose of “promot[ing] prejudice against, or hatred of, Islam and Muslims”.
“Islamophobia is on the rise because we have people stoking and promoting it,” Ellison said.
“They actually have organizations dedicated to pumping it up. It’s on the rise because people who are going through difficulties are being offered reasons for their difficulties, and they’re saying it’s the Muslim community.”
With a huge American Muslim population in swing states, the community is poised to play a key role in the upcoming polls.
“There’s a lot of communities here that are critically important, and Muslims are well over 1 percent in Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, California, New York,” Ellison said.
“There are a lot of places in this country where the Muslim vote is crucial, and I think the best way to push back on Donald Trump is be active and participate, vote, organize and then go beyond the election.”
Muslims make up 1 percent of the total US population but, according to the Pew Research Centre, their numbers will double in 2050.
Since Trump’s rise to the nomination, civil rights groups have noted a rise in attacks on Muslims, some of which have been deadly.
“The problem is that we wake up every four years,” said Linda Sarsour, a civil rights activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.
“This is about long-term organizing, working for social justice for all people. Join me in building a movement for this election, but more so beyond this election.”