One year under Trump, Muslim Americans are empowered and engaged

This past weekend as we marked the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration and the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, Muslim Americans, and many of their counterparts who rallied across the country one year ago, reflected on how far our community has come. We have stepped up our engagement with public officials, expanded and diversified our coalitions, and mobilized our community to act on a range of issues, many of which we ignored in the past.

This heightened awareness about the power of individuals to make a difference, and to have a say in the outcomes of major policies that impact millions of Americans, did not happen overnight. But President Trump’s arrival at the White House jolted many into action — a course they thought was optional just a year before.

{mosads}On Nov. 7, 2017, one year after President Trump’s electoral upset, Muslim Americans in Virginia and around the country mobilized in large numbers to support anti-Trump candidates in state and local elections. This strong turnout in an off-year election was motivated by the sense of helplessness many felt about the 2016 election results. Over the past year, Muslims have organized, canvassed, volunteered, phone-banked, donated to and engaged with their representatives in ways we had not seen before. More importantly, young Muslims now are keenly aware of what is at stake if they choose to stay on the sidelines.

 

In the past, the Muslim American population was disjointed; sub-communities were divided along ethnic and national lines, and many immigrants were shackled by fear of activism after escaping political and religious repression in the Middle East and South Asia. Today, young Muslim Americans make it a priority to show up and speak out about everything from health care to education to criminal justice reform. As we prepare for midterm elections this year, candidates across the country should engage in targeted and genuine outreach to their Muslim constituents.

As my friends and I joined the sea of pink hats with our pink hijabs on Jan. 21, 2017, we felt a sense of community that renewed our faith in the values of this great country. But unlike past years when Muslims came out to anti-war rallies focused on an administration’s foreign policy, this was not the end of the activism. The sentiment flooding my social media feeds was not one of accomplishment for having participated in the largest political demonstration of its kind, but a call to use this moment as a launching pad for what will be our collective commitment to get to work. And that meant getting off our Facebook and Twitter feeds and going out to our communities, educating ourselves on the nuances of local government, signing up to volunteer at community organizations, and writing, calling and meeting our representatives at every opportunity to make our voices heard.

Fortunately — or unfortunately — Muslims didn’t have much time to think about the promise we made to ourselves. On Jan. 27, 2017, President Trump issued the first of what would be several attempts to keep Muslims out of the United States with his ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since then, Muslims around the country have joined millions of other Americans in a sustained effort to fight the Trump administration’s measures addressing immigration, health care, education, and yes, even LGBT rights. Americans of many faiths and backgrounds no longer are willing stay quiet in this new reality. Seeing this coalition emerge, Muslims have realized the need to join others in advocating for issues that may not be their priority but are essential for maintaining the justice and democracy they hold dear.  

At mosques, enthusiastic congregants join workshops on civic engagement. Participants renew their understanding of how their county and state governments function; they save the phone numbers of their elected representatives’ offices in their contacts list, and follow these officials on social media. Many then reach out to them to set up meetings to discuss their concerns, from access to maternal health care to the crackdown on undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

This civic engagement swelled in October 2017 as mosques across Northern Virginia hosted workshops, town halls with representatives, and volunteer opportunities to get out the vote for November. Fatimah Dandashi, a 16-year old Girl Scout from our community, spent more than six months planning two of those workshops for her Gold Award Project, successfully bringing the local district supervisor and House of Delegates representative to discuss the importance of the upcoming election. Although I was supposed to be her mentor, I was the one learning the lesson — the young Muslim Americans coming of age in the Trump era represent a force to be reckoned with in coming years.

The first immigrant Muslims moved to the United States looking for the democracy and opportunity lacking in their homelands. Their children are “doing democracy.” From running for office to lobbying for better schools and criminal justice reform, Muslims in the United States no longer are standing on the sidelines. Politicians from across the political spectrum should take notice.

Tuqa Nusairat is a deputy director at the Atlantic Council. In her free time, she works on civic engagement programs in the Muslim American community in Northern Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @TuqaNusairat.

Tags Donald Trump Islam in the United States Politics Presidency of Donald Trump Protests against Donald Trump Religion in the United States United States presidential election

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