What do American Muslims think of the election and its presidential candidates?
There are 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide, and Muhammad, or one of its variants, is the most common name in the world. In America, 3.3 million people identify as Muslim, according to a recent Pew study. While former GOP contender Ben Carson would “absolutely not agree” with the US being run by a Muslim president, we wanted to know what some Muslims living in New York City thought about the remaining candidates … and who they view as “God’s candidate”.
Muslim women voters
At the Masjid At Taqwa in Brooklyn, American-born Muslims and immigrants from some 63 nations pray in unison, separated by gender. During recent Friday afternoon prayers, I sat cross-legged with the men on the floor as women prayed in the next room. When I later asked them how they felt about voting for a female president when women are forbidden from heading a mosque, they were quick to cite examples of how Muslims women are empowered.
I was quickly given a religious primer with historical references about George Washington assuming his wife’s property when they married while Muslim women maintain their belongings. The women I met had strong political opinions and no qualms about their roles as Muslim women, in the family or in the voting booth.
Voting under suspicion
The congregants I spoke to were very welcoming but also said they feel persecuted. Whether they are being surveilled at houses of worship or maligned at a presidential debate, the people I spoke with said they didn’t want to be seen as the enemy behind the gates. The climate of mistrust surrounding Muslims prompted some mosques to create liaisons who interact with local police precincts to demystify Islam. The Turkish American Eyup Sultan Islamic Center in Brighton Beach has such a position and a literal open door, through which anyone can pass into the space to see what’s happening inside the mosque.
The good Muslim
More than once, our interviewees prefaced answers with “good Muslim”. “Good Muslims” are both Republicans and Democrats. They protest against Donald Trump in the streets, and they speak at Muslim community centers in the hope of bringing voters to the Republican party. Saba Ahmed is the president and founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition while Linda Sarsour, a Democrat, heads the Arab American Association of New York. They both wear a hijab and are politically active, but from there their similarities dissipate.
They both agree that Muslims bring their values into the voting booth. Ahmed lists those values as pro-life, traditional marriage and business, while Sarsour says that justice, equality and compassion matter most. But to those values, Ahmed adds strategy as a reason for Muslims to align themselves with the GOP – a kind of respectability politics that puts the onus on Muslims to show the political establishment they are just like them to quiet any fears. Sarsour, on the other hand, would rather protest against Trump’s rhetoric and vote Bernie Sanders.