American Muslim Politicians: A New Generation on the Campaign Trail

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Source: Religion & Politics

By 

When Ahmad Zahra decided to run for city council in Fullerton, California, a politically and racially diverse community about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, he knew religion was a topic he could not avoid. Zahra may be the first Muslim to run for local office in Fullerton. He’s also part of a nationwide wave of Muslim politicians on the campaign trail this election season.

Sure enough, when religion came up at a front yard meet-and-greet with some neighbors this summer, the 49-year-old Zahra had a lot to say. Several people leaned forward and listened intently as he spoke; there were questions and concerns. The topic, however, was not Islam.

Four decades ago, an artist painted Our Lady of Guadalupe, an image of  the Virgin Mary revered by many of Zahra’s Catholic constituents, beneath a pedestrian bridge near the neighborhood high school. It was part of a series of murals paying tribute to the Mexican heritage of South Fullerton’s Latino community. Residents leave plastic bouquets, fresh flowers, and candles in the dirt beneath the Virgin, who shares the underpass with images of a Mexican flag, a classic car, and a cross with a halo of thorns floating over ocean waves. But the murals have started to crumble, and Zahra said he wanted to see them restored—perhaps even made into a landmark one day.

“This is the heritage of our town,” he said, addressing the small gathering seated on plastic chairs beneath a shaded carport. Most were Latinos, who make up about half of Zahra’s council district. “We’re not going to let our history fade away.”

When Ahmad Zahra decided to run for city council in Fullerton, California, a politically and racially diverse community about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, he knew religion was a topic he could not avoid. Zahra may be the first Muslim to run for local office in Fullerton. He’s also part of a nationwide wave of Muslim politicians on the campaign trail this election season.

Sure enough, when religion came up at a front yard meet-and-greet with some neighbors this summer, the 49-year-old Zahra had a lot to say. Several people leaned forward and listened intently as he spoke; there were questions and concerns. The topic, however, was not Islam.

Four decades ago, an artist painted Our Lady of Guadalupe, an image of  the Virgin Mary revered by many of Zahra’s Catholic constituents, beneath a pedestrian bridge near the neighborhood high school. It was part of a series of murals paying tribute to the Mexican heritage of South Fullerton’s Latino community. Residents leave plastic bouquets, fresh flowers, and candles in the dirt beneath the Virgin, who shares the underpass with images of a Mexican flag, a classic car, and a cross with a halo of thorns floating over ocean waves. But the murals have started to crumble, and Zahra said he wanted to see them restored—perhaps even made into a landmark one day.

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