A Post 9/11 World: Why civic and political engagement is necessary for American Muslims?

by Sadia Qureshi

We all remember.

We remember all those who lost their lives, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, to a tragedy 19 years ago that reshaped the way the world operated and the way it perceived Muslims. And then swiftly, the day became a catalyst to fund and promote systematic and strategic rise of Islamophobia in America.

Since then, over the years, research after research, we found how hate crimes, assaults, discrimination, anti-Muslim perceptions and political rhetoric consistently widened and deepened regardless of how much Muslims rejected extremism and peacefully contributed to the growth of the American society. It is not simply about interfaith misunderstanding; it is about political agendas.

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that three-quarters of Muslim American adults (75%) reported “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., that’s nearly seven-in-ten adults in the general public (69%). Another Pew study reported 307 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016, a 19% increase from the previous year.

The results of the 2016 election blew this out of proportion. They added a layer of white supremacist ideologies and nationalist movements redefining what it means to be “American” and targeting not only Muslims but other minorities as well. The Muslim Ban, the likely end of DACA, the denial of refugee entry, the denial of social services to permanent residents, and even more restrictions on foreigners amid the pandemic are just a few of the discriminatory policies of the current administration that made an immediate and direct impact on Muslim and other minority families alike.

Now think of this for a moment: why and how did that happen?

It happened because we, as a community, overlooked the power of civic and political engagement to bring meaningful policy changes for our collective benefit.

It happened because “we” allowed others to decide our fate in the American democracy either by not using the power of vote at all, or by using it to bring the wrong people in office who didn’t truly represent the concerns of Muslims and minorities, who didn’t make justice and equality for all a priority, who didn’t stand up against discriminatory immigration policies.

And it also happened because Muslims and other minorities are undercounted in the census that has, over the years, deprived our communities of the essential funding and our political representation.

How will it change, you ask?

“Allah never changes the condition of a people unless they strive to change it themselves.” Al Quran 13:11.

Things change when every individual decides to not repeat the mistakes that have a collective impact. We have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go. Through the relentless efforts of American Muslim organizations and leaders to organize, mobilize and engage communities, we have achieved what most Americans never thought we could.

We witnessed how our continued fight rewarded us with a day when two courageous Muslim women, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, were sworn in for office on the Quran. We are witnessing a number of Muslim men and women across America stepping forward, winning local races to bring Muslim and minority voices to the forefront. We will witness how engaged and informed Muslim voters will meaningfully impact the upcoming election and the future of American democracy.

But, this progress will be sustained only when “you” – an individual – with a power of vote, stands up to use it for the right representatives considering it an Islamic duty on behalf of the whole community.

So, as we remember the 911 tragedy and honor its victims, we should also remember how life significantly changed for Muslims after that. We should remember what we have achieved so far in our fight for justice and what it would take to continue this fight for all underrepresented populations like us. We should remember that we live in a country that facilitates constitutional rights for all people.

We should remember to vote to protect these rights.

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