Campaign rhetoric against Muslims spurs mosques to get out the vote

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Source: Chicago Tribune

By Manya Brachear Pashman

Contact Reporter

When Imam Nazim Mangera arrived at Chicago’s Muslim Community Center in December, he immediately encountered a feeling of deja vu.

In his last months as leader of a Vancouver mosque, Mangera had helped mobilize Canadian Muslims to cast their vote in a heated race for prime minister — a contest between a liberal candidate who went out of his way to show respect for Muslims’ religious rights and a conservative incumbent who had pushed to ban from Canadian citizenship ceremonies the face veil worn by some Muslim women.

Mangera arrived on Chicago’s Northwest Side shortly after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed that the government bar some foreign Muslims from entering the country, monitor mosques and kill the loved ones of radical Islamic terrorists.

In the U.S. on a visa from Canada and unable to vote, Mangera has done the only thing he can do to make sure Muslim voices are heard: preach.

“Every vote counts,” said Mangera, who occasionally incorporates “get out the vote” messages into his Friday sermons. “When we take part in the political process, politicians, even if they don’t benefit us, at least at a minimum, won’t harm us.”

For decades, Muslim leaders have urged the faithful to go to the polls on Election Day to perform their American civic duty. But a surge of anti-Islam rhetoric in this year’s election cycle has fueled additional efforts by area mosques to boost voter turnout. In addition to community leaders setting up voter registration tables in lobbies and booking buses to take people to the polls, imams in their weekly sermons are urging congregants to cast their ballots. Though they don’t tell the faithful how to vote, many say the choice is clear.

“They see the danger is in front of their own houses,” Mangera said. “It’s unfortunate that we have these negative aspects in life to encourage people (to vote).”

According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank that focuses on the American Muslim community, the number of Muslims registered to vote lags behind other faith traditions as well as the general population. Only 60 percent of American Muslims are registered to vote, compared with at least 86 percent of Jews, 95 percent of Catholics and 94 percent of Protestants, a recent study showed. And 14 percent of Muslims who are eligible to vote for the next president say they won’t — the largest of any faith group.

Getting Muslims to the polls historically has been a challenge, said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a longtime Muslim leader who came to Chicago from Syria nearly 30 years ago. While mosques generally try to be engaged in the community, he said, convincing immigrants or first-generation Americans that their votes matter in a national election can take time.

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