CAIRO – Two officials from a leading US Muslim civil rights group were invited to attend US President Barack Obama state of the Union speech, in a move intended to integrate Muslims as a key part in the American community and to counter Republicans’ anti-Muslim sentiments.
The officials, CAIR-SFBA Government Relations Coordinator Sameena Usman will attend the State of the Union as a guest of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) while CAIR-FL Chief Operations Officer Nezar Hamze will attend as a guest of Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL).
“At a time of increasing Islamophobia in our nation, intensified in part by the inflammatory rhetoric of public figures like Donald Trump, it is more important than ever that American Muslims take part in the political process,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad in a letter to President Obama.
“I urge you to offer a strong defense of our nation’s longstanding traditions of religious inclusion and mutual respect at a time when the forces of division and polarization seem to dominate. As one writer noted recently, there has never been an America without Muslims.”
The invitation extended to two Muslim officials came days after Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, challenged Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring a Muslim American as one of his guests to the speech.
“This is an opportunity to really drive the point home that there are no Americans who are suspect just based on their religious identity, that all Americans are welcome in the people’s house,” Ellison said in an interview with The Hill.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has also urged Democratic lawmakers to bring Muslims to the speech as a rebuke to what she sees is anti-Islamic language from the right.
“The rhetoric and vitriol that has been targeted at this community has been absolutely outrageous and unacceptable,” Wasserman Schultz said at a news conference according to The Sun-Sentinel.
“And as a member of a minority religion myself, one that has faced persecution throughout our existence, to me the idea that we would stand idly by and ignore that and not stand up and use our voices to stand up for our brothers and sisters in the Muslim-American community was just unacceptable.”
In their letter, CAIR has urged President Obama to offer support for the American Muslim community during his annual State of the Union address.
“CAIR has received more reports about acts of Islamophobic violence, bullying, threats, intimidation, and discrimination targeting American Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslim) and Islamic institutions during the past year than during any other period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks,” Awad said.
“That backlash has been exacerbated by inaccurate and inflammatory Islamophobic statements by public figures like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and others. These intolerant views echo a dark period of history that should be taken as a lesson, not a license.
“We are pleased that a number of elected officials have announced plans to invite American Muslims to attend the State of the Union address and hope those in attendance will hear a defense of their civil rights and their right to civic participation.
“I respectfully request that you use the opportunity provided by the State of the Union address to recognize the many positive contributions American Muslims have made and continue to make to our society, to push back against rising anti-Muslim intolerance and to set a positive tone by offering support to American Muslims during a time when they feel under siege by growing hatred and attacks.
“The growth of Islamophobia and racism harms not only American Muslims, it impacts Americans of all faiths and backgrounds through the corrosive effect it has on national unity.”
Muslims make up 1% of America’s 322 million population, according to Pew Research center.
Anti-Muslim sentiments have reached an all-time high after the rise of the so-called Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Moreover, the Republican presidential candidates, such as Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, have added to increasing anti-Muslim sentiments.
Facing growing attacks on Muslims, CAIR has launched a new website, Islamophobia.org, to monitor and challenge the growing anti-Muslim bigotry.
In 2014, CAIR published “Know Your Rights and Responsibilities” pocket guide that tells American Muslims to report any actual knowledge of criminal activity without being asked by law enforcement authorities.