Muslim participation in American politics is influenced by several factors, most of which are historical and religious. In recent years post-9/11, Muslim Americans have gotten increasingly more involved in politics following growing anti-Muslim sentiment and policies.
Historically, for many years, American Muslims have been sidelined in American politics. Today, the American Muslim voter turnout is perhaps the highest it has ever been, although it’s still low compared to other groups.
Anti-Muslimism sentiment and terrorism
The periods both before and after 9/11 were important on the American political scene. As the U.S. waged wars in multiple Muslim-majority countries, there was often public support for these wars. As we know from American revolution history, the United States won its freedom in a war against the British Empire. However, the American public at large didn’t seem to have an issue with the United States and its own empire and imperialistic ways enacting regime changes in other countries. Post-9/11, the United States witnessed an increase in patriotism, which saw horrific increases in anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes. The American political scene was hostile to the Muslim community in America and abroad, and fear for harassment was high.
During that time, most Muslims chose to keep a low profile in politics because they feared they would be harassed or treated with suspicion. Political oppression against the Muslim community was high and anti-Muslim policies were enacted, including unconstitutional surveillance.
Voting against a hostile party
In 2017, Trump, a Republican, became president. He immediately gave executive orders and restricted entry into America to all immigrants from Muslim-majority nations. Through social media, Trump termed the Muslim community as radical terrorists.
Throughout his presidency, Trump was continually hostile to the Muslim community in America. As a result, many American-Muslims branded the Republican party as a hostile party and an anti-Muslim party. This is despite the fact that in years prior, finding a Muslim who voted Republican wasn’t an oddity at all. In the 2020 election, Trump ran for re-election, and the Muslim community turned out in record numbers to vote, so as to not risk another four years of a hostile presidency.
To many Muslims, Biden was a better choice, and Democrats presented themselves as giving every American equal opportunity regardless of religion. To guard their interests in terms of cushioning against Trump’s hostility, the majority of American Muslims voted for Biden.
One of Biden’s campaign promises was to rescind the travel bans issued by Trump, and deal with the hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric spread by the Trump administration.
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The role of faith
The Muslim clergy plays an important role in the American Muslim voting patterns. There are unfortunately some Muslim religious figures who teach that American politics are haram because it’s largely a non-Islam political scene, and thus it is shirk.
Thankfully, there are also religious scholars and teachers in the community who advocate for Muslims to have political engagement and involvement.
There are also an increasing number of Muslims acting in political roles both locally and on a larger scale. Muslims are running for political office at all levels, including as state representatives and district attorneys. Supporting Muslims vying for political seats will help Muslims to have a voice politically, and oppose policies that are oppressive and based on anti-Muslim sentiment.
Political campaign promises
Although the American Muslim community consists only about 1% of the entire U.S. population, Muslim participation in U.S. elections means a lot. During the 2020 election, the Muslim American vote was substantial enough that it could swing the election. Politically-savvy politicians understand this significance, and make campaign promises that favor the American-Muslim community.
A perfect example of this was Biden courting the Muslim community while on the campaign trail, promising to lift the travel ban by Trump. These promises were not much, but it was enough to influence the voting pattern of American Muslims in the last general election.
generational gaps and U.s. foreign policy
Although voter turnout has been high, there are still some Muslims in the United States who rightfully have major concerns with the current political system and its candidates. Those who recently gained citizenship may shy away from voting because of America’s negative political influence in their nations of origin. Those who immigrated from Iran, Iraq, and Syria, for example, might not vote because of experiences they had back home. To them, voting might mean electing a president who will send more troops to their country of origin. Other Muslims who are concerned about U.S. aggression in Muslim-majority countries may also decide not to vote because of this as well.
For American Muslims who were born and raised in the United States, the situation may be different. While the older generation might be guided more by religion when voting, the younger generation might be guided by ideologies and technological development.
The political candidates must create a balance and make promises that favor all these generations. Immigrants who moved to America recently might be harder to convince because they are yet to undergo a complete cultural transformation. Third and fourth generations of American Muslims are likely to have different voting patterns.
For many years, the political environment in the U.S. has been hostile to the Muslim community. The political landscape is changing quickly, and more American Muslims are participating in American elections and political activities. The participation of the American Muslim community in American politics is mainly influenced by religious beliefs, campaign promises, and how the ruling party embraces American Muslims and Islam. As more American-Muslims realize the importance of political engagement, participation in politics will continually show a positive trend.
Helen Birk is a freelance content writer. She enjoys writing about history, culture, and world news. As a writer, Helen aims to improve the everyday lives of her readers.