Several prominent Muslim American elected officials endorsed Joe Biden for president in a letter organised by Emgage Action before an online summit on Monday that featured the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Among those signing the letter are Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Indiana Congressman Andre Carson, all Democrats. Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, served as a high-profile surrogate for Bernie Sanders before he exited the presidential race in April – making her support for Biden potentially helpful as the former vice president seeks to mobilise Muslim voters for this election.
The letter coincides with a summit that Emgage Action has titled, “Million Muslim Votes”, underscoring its emphasis on boosting Muslim turnout in November. Biden addressed the gathering on Monday.
“Joe Biden’s presence serves not only to galvanise Muslim Americans to cast their ballots, but to usher in an era of engaging with Muslim American communities under a Biden administration,” said Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action.
“We anticipate that a Biden administration would provide Muslim American communities platforms to speak on issues affecting us, represent us within the administration and in policymaking discourses.”
The pro-Biden letter from Muslim American elected officials decried a number of President Donald Trump’s domestic and international policies, including his administration’s ban on travellers from several predominantly Muslim countries and his pullout from the Iran nuclear deal.
“Our number one goal is to remove Donald Trump from office and to replace him with someone who can begin to heal our nation,” the letter said. “A Biden administration will move the nation forward on many of the issues we care about,” it said, citing racial justice, affordable healthcare, climate change and immigration.
In 2000, the GOP nominee George W Bush courted Muslims far more than the Democrat (even visited a mosque in Michigan) – but that relationship didn’t last. https://t.co/ZZlWMxVGcv
— Asma Khalid (@asmamk) July 20, 2020
The Muslim American officials also praised Biden’s agenda for their communities. Among other goals, Biden has pledged to rescind the Trump administration’s travel ban affecting Muslims “on day one” if he’s elected, a pledge he repeated in his address to the summit on Monday.
Biden told the summit that no group has felt the sting of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric more than Muslim-Americans.
“Muslim communities were the first to feel Donald Trump’s assault on Black and brown communities in this country with his vile Muslim ban,” Biden said. “That fight was the opening barrage in what has been nearly four years of constant pressure and insults, and attacks against Muslim American communities.”
Biden told the group he would seek out Muslims to serve in his administration and work with Congress to pass new legislation abolishing religious and racial profiling by authorities.
“He’s making a mockery of what we stand for,” Biden said of his Republican opponent. “We can do something about it. I’m here today to ask you to join me in the fight to rip this poison from the government root and stem, or as the famous case said, root and branch.”
Other state- and local-level Muslim American officials signing onto the pro-Biden letter hail from 10 states, including Michigan – a state where Alzayat said he believes there are more than 150,000 registered Muslim voters. Those numbers in a swing state that Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes make Emgage’s goal of maximising Muslim voter turnout especially powerful in Michigan, but the group also has chapters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida.
“A lot is at stake,” Alzayat said. “The importance of Muslim American voter participation in this upcoming election cycle is greater than it has ever been.”
Youssef Chouhoud, assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, said Biden’s appearance at Monday’s summit was “a very meaningful step” but noted that he did not participate in a large Muslim gathering last year addressed by Sanders and another then-presidential candidate, Julian Castro. Both attended a forum held at an Islamic Society of North America convention.
Many Muslim Americans have particularly lauded Sanders for the way he engaged their communities.
“You have this community that is kind of, you know, ripe for political engagement,” Chouhoud said.
“Negative enthusiasm” against another Trump term, he added, “is going to be the glue that holds Muslim voters together. And if you make them feel valued, they are much more likely to turn out.”
Farooq Mitha, senior adviser for Muslim engagement with Biden’s campaign, said reaching out to Muslim American voters is a priority for Biden, pointing to his own appointment as an example. The campaign has hosted events with Muslim Americans and met with community leaders over the past months, he said.
“A Biden presidency offers Muslims an opportunity to be engaged with government, rather than being shut out like many other groups that have been alienated and demonized by the Trump administration,” he said in response to emailed questions. “Muslim communities can have an outsized impact in many states and we are working every day to earn their support.”