MALDEN, Massachusetts – Falling in the middle of a heated political debate, an American non-profit group is encouraging American Muslims across the country to run for political office, to help potential Muslim candidates identify opportunities for civic engagement and then to empower them.
“Oh, there’s so much to learn, but it’s definitely exciting. So, the Islamic community is excited because if elected, I would be the first Muslim elected in the city of Malden, and they really want to see that for the community,” Nichole Mossalam, who sees herself as a potential candidate for Malden school committee, told Maine Public on Monday, February 20.
“Some of the parent groups that I’m involved in, they want a voice on the school committee as well,” Mossalam says.
The 34-year-old lives in Malden and is a director at her local mosque. She has been working with the political training group for over a month and admits she has a long way to go before she launches her run in June.
Mossalam is an American Muslim who was trained by Jetpac nonprofit group, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which trains potential candidates regardless of party affiliation.
This story is part of the series “Facing Change,” by the New England News Collaborative, which examines the shifting demographics of the region.
Another candidate-in-training is 41-year-old Sarah Kahtib of Walpole, who has a master degree in structural engineering.
“We are a target of a lot of unfortunate rhetoric and even physical assaults and I think, yeah, it can be a catalyst,” she said.
“As the community sees more and more people who are able to step up and try to run, then it will give them confidence, and Jetpac, it’s just a wonderful resource, so that somebody like myself who maybe has that inclination to run, this gives you the extra boost that you need to see it through,” Kahtib added.
Providing this “extra boost” to people thinking about a bid for office is part of what Jetpac’s co-founder and Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen had in mind.
“In my opinion, organizing in the community is the best way to get started thinking about running for office, and running for office is one of the best ways to impact the local or state level community on issues of great important value to our everyday lives,” he says.
As Massachusetts’ first Muslim city councilor, Mazen wants to encourage other American Muslims to enter politics.
The program encourages Muslims to enter a new field of political activism.
“Muslims to a great extent have been on the defensive for the last couple of decades. When you are spending so much of your life on the defensive, it makes it difficult to do the work that is community oriented,” he said.
He added that political organizing in communities has the potential to translate into voters at the polls.
“Let’s go beyond that, to the fact that it’s incumbent upon Muslims to achieve justice in the community, to protect peoples housing, to visit the sick. It’s incumbent upon Muslims to be part of that discussion,” he said.
“All of that comes out of community solidarity, community organizing.”