How important is the American Muslim vote in the upcoming US elections?

Donald Trump’s calls for banning Muslims from entering the US and taking “extreme vetting” measures have inflamed anti-Muslim sentiments in the US.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on November 3, 2016, in Selma, N.C. Evan Vucci / Associated Press
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Sabina Qadir is a second generation American Muslim who moved to the United States from Saudi Arabia when she was eight.

She lives in Naperville, about 50 kilometres west of Chicago, and has voted in every election since she turned 18.

This election, the 45-year-old feels even more obligated to vote because of the constant attacks on Muslims by Donald Trump.

“I am a second generation American and this is my home and this is my country. I don’t know anything else so this kind of talk is very disheartening,” she said referring to the last three presidential debates.

Her parents, originally from India, became citizens after moving to the US more than 30 years ago.

Mr Trump’s calls for banning Muslims from entering the US and taking “extreme vetting” measures have inflamed anti-Muslim sentiments in the US.

On the other hand, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has often referred to Muslims as assets for intelligence gathering against extremists.

Jocelyn Mitchell, a political science professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, has highlighted that everyone is equal when it comes to casting a vote and encouraged American Muslims to make their voices heard in next week’s election.

"You need to take the full measure of the candidate, his or her words or actions in all areas, not just in one specific event, when making these sorts of criticisms and assessments," she said.

The 3.3 million-strong American Muslim community appears to be far more galvanised to vote in this election than in earlier polls because of the anti-Muslim rhetoric, said Meira Neggaz, executive director at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which studies issues affecting American Muslims.

However, Ms Negazz thinks more needs to be done.

“We did a poll back in January and we found that 60 per cent Muslims were registered to vote which is quite low when around 85 per cent are eligible to vote,” she said. “What is more concerning are the ‘inshallah’ voters who plan to vote but haven’t registered yet.”

She said the presence of Muslims in swing states such as Florida and Michigan could have a major impact on the election results depending on the voter turnout.

“Politicians know which community votes and which doesn’t. If you are a voting community, they will come to you or else they will ignore you. This is the only way to hold politicians accountable and show whether you agree or disagree with their policies.”

While both candidates have focused on terrorism and ISIL, studies show that the economy, jobs, civil liberties and health care are the most important issues for the average American Muslim voter, according to ISPU.

Arab American Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one, according to the Arab American Institute, which has seen a steady migration of Arab Americans away from the Republican party.

The public, media and politicians often assume that Arabs make up the largest numbers in the American Muslim population but this not true, said Maya Berry, the institute’s executive director.

“Majority of the Arab Americans are Christians and when it comes to Muslims it is the African-American community that has the largest numbers,” Ms Berry said. “The issues that concern Arab Americans are not the same as those affecting Muslim immigrants.”

She said it was extremely difficult to get statistics on the American Muslim population.

“Our country is not set up to track religion and there is no legal document where you have to state your religion so the question is – how are you arriving at these numbers? The reality is that it is very difficult to package the religious vote.”

Ms Qadir, who has two teenage children, said that many of her Muslim friends were having a hard time explaining to their children that “they won’t be kicked out of the country” for their religious beliefs.

“My kids are much older and they understand things way better but it is usually the younger ones who are scared from all this talk” she said.

“Growing up, I faced some discrimination but it wasn’t based on religion and I never had a doubt about whether I belong here or not, but when young kids hear their friends repeating the anti-Muslim talk they hear on TV, it really affects them.”


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