Muslim Groups Work for Unity

October 28, 2000

Source: Los Angeles Times

On October 28, 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported "when a coalition of Muslim American leaders delivered its first unified presidential endorsement this week--backing Republican candidate George W. Bush--the move marked an important moment in the community's long struggle for unity and a greater presence on the American political stage. 'There is a tremendous awakening in our community,' said Saed Moujtahed, 39, a Syrian- born entrepreneur. Once politically apathetic, he intends to back Bush and has put his telecommunications business on hold to raise more than $ 80,000 in his first political campaign ever, supporting San Jose Republican Rep. Tom Campbell's bid for the U.S. Senate. The potential size of the Muslim voting population in America is unclear. Estimates of the Muslim American population range from a few million to 10 million, with anywhere from 22% to 42% of them African Americans...The effort to unify that vote has not been without obstacles. Disagreements with the endorsement from African American Muslim leaders, most of whom support Democratic nominee Al Gore, highlight a division within the community...The internal division was highlighted when the nation's largest African American Muslim organization was not included at the podium when the coalition's endorsement of Bush was announced. 'We felt slighted,' said A. Ali Khan, who heads the political action arm of the Muslim American Society, a largely African American organization headed by Imam W.D. Mohammed. 'It was like being invited to a table with no food on it.' The slight was the unintended consequence of miscommunication, leaders of the coalition said, and the two sides quickly made up and appeared together at an evening forum that day. But the incident made clear that with a diverse community of immigrants from more than 50 countries and a sizable African American population, creating a Muslim bloc vote will be no easy task. 'Muslims are fiercely independent in our thinking,' said Khan, adding that such attitudes are embedded in the non-hierarchical character of Islam itself. "Unlike Jews, who have overwhelmingly voted Democratic for decades, Muslims face an immediate stumbling block in their quest for political unity: the social, cultural and political differences between immigrants and their African American brethren. Differences in political attitudes are readily apparent. The immigrant-led Muslim organizations that endorsed Bush this week said the decision was based on grass-roots feedback from straw polls and town hall meetings. But the views are decidedly different among African Americans: Khan said a survey of 5,000 members of his group in seven major cities showed that 84% supported Gore, compared with 9% for Bush... 'The problem has been that these people make decisions and expect us to rubber-stamp them. We want to be called in at the first meeting and come away with a joint decision,' said Imam Karim Abdul Hasan of the Bilal Islamic Center in Los Angeles. 'We are not going to be boys for anyone; we're going to be men for ourselves.'"