More Muslim American Women Entering Politics

October 30, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Associated Press

Many things have changed for Muslim Americans in the seven years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: Interrogations from FBI and immigration officials. Additional screenings from airport security. The feeling of being targeted by new anti-terrorism laws.

And then there's this: More Muslims, particularly women, are running for political office, spurred by the perceived erosions of their civil liberties.

The soul searching that followed the attacks prompted more woman to step into leadership roles, a trend encouraged by the community, said Agha Saeed, founder of the American Muslim Alliance, which has been tracking Muslim candidates since 1996. Before Sept. 11, less than 5 percent were women, Saeed said. Now about one in three are.

Dozens of Muslim Americans of both genders have seats on city councils and work in Washington, Saeed said, though few hold statewide office. Only two Muslims — Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana — serve in Congress. Muslims make up only a very small portion of the U.S. population.

"9/11 had a big impact," Ellison said. "We kind of came to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines ... was not going to be a successful strategy, and that people needed to get involved."

Jamilah Nasheed, an African-American convert to Islam and Missouri Democratic state representative, is one of just nine Muslim Americans in state legislatures nationwide, and the only woman, according to the alliance. She is almost certain to win re-election this year, and Muslim American women in California, Michigan and Minnesota are vying to join her.