This became all the more clear after speaking with Faizan Syed, the executive director of the Council on American and Islamic Relations in St. Louis (CAIR-STL). He commented on how organizations like CAIR play a role in creating this change and presence. Primarily focused on defending American Muslims who are victims of discrimination, CAIR also leads various initiatives that work to form a culture of civic engagement within the Muslim community. Their Ambassador Project, for instance, works to build relationships between American Muslims and their local elected officials.
All this work is important, because as Muslims, its important that people view me and us not as Donald Trump’s potential terrorists or as just another means of ensuring national security— as Hillary Clinton suggested when she called Muslims our “eyes and ears” for combatting terrorism. Like any other American teen, I go to class, I binge watch Broad City, I take too many BuzzFeed quizzes when I should be studying. I also happen to be Muslim. Organizations like CAIR drive that message home as they combat Islamophobia and increase visibility of Muslims within our community.
However, despite all of these engagement and education efforts, Syed thinks there’s a deeper reason the Muslim community is stopping short of full civic engagement at its fullest potential. “The greatest barrier towards Muslim voter participation is apathy and a belief that their vote does not count,” he says. “A belief that no matter who you vote for, things won’t change.” This apathy is seen by comparing levels of civic engagement. According to a Pew study, only 62 percent of Muslims who are U.S. citizens were certain that they were registered to vote; the national average was 74 percent. Changing this pattern is essential, since despite accounting for only 1 percent of the total U.S. population, Muslims were considered a swing demographic in many states. In Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia put together, Muslims accounted for nearly one million votes. Because of this vital importance, huge efforts were made to get out the vote and combat the pre-existing apathy.