American Muslims finally have a seat at the table, and they have the numbers to prove it. As a relatively new minority community in the United States, American Muslims have struggled to find their voice and in making that voice heard in the political fray. However, in recent years, this community has seen enormous growth in several swing states, most notably in Florida.
American Muslims have voted both Democratic and Republican in the past, making them a large and important group in the courtship of minority voters around election time.
Florida was a key state in the 2012 presidential elections, with President Obama edging out a win over Gov. Mitt Romney by less than 75,000 votes. Emerge USA, a civic engagement nonprofit organization that focuses on engaging minority communities, specifically the Muslim, Arab and Southeast Asian communities, maintains a database of over 150,000 registered Muslim voters in Florida, with exit polls showing 120,000 of them voted in November. Of these 120,000 votes, an overwhelming 80 percent went to Obama. Sadly, neither party courted the Muslim vote this year, yet the presidential race could have turned out dramatically different without the Muslim American vote.
Stories like West’s are taking place across the country as American Muslims become engaged in the political process with help from organizations like Emerge USA. Many in the community come from backgrounds of political dictatorship and oppression, where voting may not be commonplace and speaking out against the government is particularly dangerous. Civic engagement organizations are serving a largely educational role as the community develops into the political powerhouse it can become.
As newcomers on the scene, Muslims have made great strides in the realization that voting is the simplest, most effective way to influence change in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Contrary to what West believes, American Muslims are indeed Americans. They care about the Constitution, they care about society and they care about domestic issues. A recent poll by Emerge USA shows that 47 percent of Muslim voters polled in Florida believe the economy was the most important issue. Foreign policy garnered a measly 8 percent.
This data shows that American Muslims are here for the same reasons as everyone else — to raise a family, to establish economic stability, and to gain a higher standard of living.
What presidential candidate can afford to lose 150,000 votes in a state as crucial as Florida?
American Muslims, welcome to the table.
Mustafa Dandashly is a student at the FIU College of Law and an advisor to Emerge USA.