Al Jazeera speaks to Muslim supporters of the Republican party to gauge their views on Trump and his rhetoric on Islam.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – On the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention, where delegates will formally nominate Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential candidate, Muslim leaders gathered to push the community to vote, calling the ballot a powerful means to challenge the growing problem of Islamophobia.
“You don’t have to go to Canada, just register and vote,” Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told members of the Muslim community who had come to Philadelphia for the four-day event.
“We can defeat hate,” he added. “Islamophobia is not a Muslim issue, it’s an American issue. Hate crimes are on the rise. The biggest victim of Islamophobia is America and its future prospect.”
Awad and other Muslim leaders are encouraging members of the community to get involved in politics, a field in which they believe they are under-represented. Believing that Islamophobia, along with xenophobia and misogyny, are flourishing within the Republican party, they said the stakes now were higher than ever.
“This is not like prior elections where we are debating the role of government, whether taxes should be higher or lower and the like,” said Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. “We never had a leader of a major party openly calling for religious hate against a particular community.”
Republican nominee Donald Trump has called for Muslims to be banned from entering the US, and made it a centrepiece of his candidacy. Last week, in an interview with 60 Minutes, Trump called for “vetting” people hailing from countries with a history of “terror”.
Other American politicians have followed suit: a few days ago, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an interview that people from a Muslim background should be tested to see if they believe in Sharia law, and be deported if they do. His comments, which came shortly after an attack in Nice, France, which left more than 80 people dead, were criticised by US President Barack Obama as “repugnant”.
A recent report found that more than 70 groups in the US were contributing to some extent to propagating Islamophobia. The report, released by CAIR and the University of California Berkeley’s Centre for Race and Gender, said 33 of those groups have a primary purpose of “promot[ing] prejudice against, or hatred of, Islam and Muslims”.
“Islamophobia is on the rise because we have people stoking and promoting it,” Ellison said. “They actually have organisations dedicated to pumping it up. It’s on the rise because people who are going through difficulties are being offered reasons for their difficulties, and they’re saying it’s the Muslim community.”
Many fear that Trump’s ideology could have a devastating impact on the political landscape of the US. In his nominating speech, he seized on the theme of law and order to paint a dark picture of America: one dominated by a deceitful “liberal media” and terrorism from within and abroad. He offered himself as the solution to these problems, but did not provide details.
Muslims, many of whom believe they are being scapegoated for political reasons, make up 1 percent of the total US population but, according to the Pew Research Centre, their numbers will double in 2050.
“There’s a lot of communities here that are critically important, and Muslims are well over 1 percent in Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, California, New York,” Ellison said.
“There are a lot of places in this country where the Muslim vote is crucial, and I think the best way to push back on Donald Trump is be active and participate, vote, organise and then go beyond the election.”
Going beyond the election is something that Muslim groups are hoping to capitalise on in this cycle, mainly by organising and campaigning to register one million new voters.
Since Trump’s rise to the nomination, civil rights groups have noted a rise in attacks on Muslims, some of which have been deadly.
“The problem is that we wake up every four years,” said Linda Sarsour, a civil rights activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.
“This is about long-term organising, working for social justice for all people. Join me in building a movement for this election, but more so beyond this election.”
Follow Dalia Hatuqa on Twitter: @daliahatuqa