2008 Presidential Election


Muslims speak out

Local leaders want it known that ignorance is the greatest danger voters face

Yasser Moten, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nevada chapter.
Photo: Iris Dumuk

For nearly 20 months, U.S. Muslims have watched Barack Obama fumble as he tries to debunk rumors that he’s a closet Muslim. In June, the Democratic presidential nominee apologized to two hijab-wearing women after campaign staffers barred them from taking pictures with him at a rally in Detroit. Obama had best be careful. An estimated 2 million Muslims are expected to vote in November, making them a potential swing demographic. The Weekly chatted with local Muslims about Obama’s arms-length treatment, international tensions and how they feel about their religion being used as a political ploy.

Mustafa Yunus Richards, imam (or teacher) of the Masjid Haseebullah, warns of the effects of religious propaganda:

“Religion has been used divisively for a long time. It’s the way zealots motivate people in groups that don’t actively seek information. It was used during the Crusades. It’s been used by different denominations to demonize other denominations. When Abner Louima was tortured in that New York police station, [Fox News host] Sean Hannity called him ‘Louie the Liar’ because he was a Muslim immigrant. The message was that he deserved it. Then a cop admitted that he did attack Louima, and [Hannity] stopped. These are tactics the right wing employs on a regular basis. The economy is crumbling, people are losing jobs, and they’ve got people worried about Obama’s religion.” (A Pew Forum on Religion and Politics survey notes 12 percent of Americans think Obama is Muslim.)

Yasser Moten, executive director of the Nevada chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wishes Obama would publicly denounce attacks on Islam:

“A lot of Muslims are waiting for Barack Obama to say unequivocally that if he was a Muslim, then so what, there’s nothing wrong with being Muslim. If his campaign is all about change, about breaking the status quo, he should really stand up and fight this exploitation. He could win a lot of brownie points. He doesn’t have to defend Islam, but he should take a harder approach against the hate Muslims have faced in recent years.”

Ramon Savoy, publisher of the Las Vegas Sentinel-Voice, says many misconstrue the essence of Islam:

“Anybody that submits to the will of the creator is a Muslim. That could be you, me, Barack Obama. But I’ve never heard Obama say he’s studying Al-Islam, which would then mean he is a practicing Muslim. People think being a Muslim means you’re associated with terrorism or violence. Islam preaches peace. Saying that he’s Muslim is just another reason people are not going to vote for him, along with the fact that he’s black and has been called an elitist. If this stuff is said enough, it becomes real to some people.” (A Pew Forum on Religion and Politics survey notes that 63 percent of Muslims are Democrats, compared to 11 percent Republicans.)

Khalid Khahn, president of the Islamic Society of Nevada, thinks positive Islamic-American relations have been overshadowed:

“There are 55 Muslim countries that are peaceful, so that means there are 55 Muslim leaders who are very good allies with the United States. You’ve got Malaysia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Qatar, Yemen, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey. I could go on. The good far outweighs the bad. But people want to focus on the few countries that cause problems.” (Note: Khan’s views are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his organization.)

Mujahid Ramadan, a member of the Muslim American Society and Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, says U.S.-Muslim tensions abroad have had political effects in America:

“This administration will go down as one of the worst in history; 9/11 and the ongoing campaign [in Iraq] have made Islam the enemy. Muslims actually delivered Florida to Bush in 2000. Bush has paid them back by cooking their countries. This is one of the worst administrations in history. Across the country, Muslims are mobilizing; 85 percent of them are registered, and we expect 100 percent of them to turn out. These are highly educated voters. And they’re much more informed than they were in 2000.”

Aslam Abdullah, a member of the American Muslim Federation, has seen a surge in political activism among local Muslims:

“There were 7,000 Muslim voters in Clark County, and that number has increased. Muslims have become extremely engaged in the political process. We were very active during the presidential caucuses. There were 12 Muslim delegates for Hillary Clinton, 11 for Obama, as well as Muslim delegates for McCain and Ron Paul. We’ve proven that we are patriotic.”

Fateen Seifullah, Imam of the Masjid As-Sabur, hopes more U.S. Muslims venture into politics:

“Barack Obama should point to Keith Ellison, who’s a Muslim congressman in Minnesota, and Andre Carson, who’s a Muslim Democratic congressman in Indiana’s 7th District, as examples of what Muslims can do in this country. Carson won a special election to succeed his late grandmother [Julia Carson died in December of lung cancer]. Their victories also show that Muslims are willing to serve the country and that voters will elect them. This goes to show that Americans are smart enough to avoid political ploys like the anti-Muslim DVDs [Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West] that went out in newspapers across the country [including the Las Vegas Review-Journal].”


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