A Muslim political candidate for lieutenant governor in the US state of Virginia has received an outpouring of support after he was asked a question in a televised debate that critics describe as “Islamophobic”.
During the campaign’s only televised political debate on Tuesday night, WJLA TV anchor Dave Lucas, one of the moderators, asked Rasoul a question that prompted widespread accusations of Islamophobia, and a slew of condemnations on social media.
“The Washington Post reported your fundraising effort is ‘category-leading,’ because of some out-of-state donors connected to Muslim advocacy groups – there’s nothing wrong with that – but that was the case,” Lucas said during the debate which was held at George Mason University in Fairfax.
“Talk a little bit about your fundraising efforts and can you assure Virginians, if you’re elected, you’ll represent all of them regardless of faith and beliefs?”
Rasoul, 39, the son of Palestinian immigrants and one of six candidates running, responded that he was “proud to have a campaign that’s 100 percent funded by individuals, with the majority of contributors coming from Virginia”.
Public records show that Rasoul has raised more than $1.2m in funds since last year. His top donor is Manal Fakhoury, a pharmacist who lives in Florida, and a board member of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. She is listed as having contributed more than $74,000 to Rasoul’s campaign.
After the debate, Rasoul tweeted a picture of the Virginia statute of religious freedom, which the state adopted in 1786, a document that separated the church from the state and ensures the freedom of religion, without discrimination.
“We serve all people. Of all faiths. We welcome you & love you as you are,” Rasoul tweeted.
Joshua Cole who is running for re-election in the Virginia House of Delegates said he was never asked about how much money he received from “Christian donors”.
“I just want a Virginia where Sam Rasoul can be measured on the merit of his work and not the stereotype of his faith,” he said in a tweet.
In all my years of campaigning – I was never asked about the amount of ‘Christian’ donors I’ve had. I just want a Virginia where @Sam_Rasoul can be measured on the merit of his work and not the stereotype of his faith. 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/JPRLcYKfow
— Delegate Joshua Cole (@JoshuaCole) May 26, 2021
Sean Perryman, a fellow candidate for lieutenant governor, also condemned the question.
“No other candidate was asked about their ability to serve all Virginians because of their faith,” he tweeted.
Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Virginia, said the moderator’s question was a “major fail” and that faith-based questions are “discriminatory and inexcusable”.
💯correct. We don't ask about Christian donors, Jewish donors, etc. Ok to look at donor funding, but making it faith based is discriminatory and inexcusable. Major fail on the part of the moderator and that was personally conveyed to the moderator tonight after the debate. https://t.co/kDJ1HS3T9y
— Susan Swecker (@DPVAChair) May 26, 2021
On Wednesday CAIR said that WJLA Senior Vice President Bill Fanshawe apologised in an email, calling the question “inappropriate and disrespectful”.
“We welcome this apology and thank WJLA for stepping up and taking appropriate action in response to this Islamophobic incident,” CAIR’s National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “All Americans should be able to engage in our nation’s political process without fear of being singled out based on their faith.”
Rasoul is currently one of two Muslim members of the Virginia General Assembly and is running for lieutenant governor on a progressive platform that includes raising the minimum wage in the state, expanding childcare programmes and making healthcare more affordable.
Virginia’s Democratic primary elections are set for June 8, ahead of general elections scheduled for November 2.