COLUMBIA — A lecture giving Muslim voters the tools to get active in American politics dispelled common stereotypes surrounding Muslims, like the idea that Islamic political issues differ greatly from those of the general public.
Many of Islam’s core principles support democratic ideals, said Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national nonprofit civil rights advocacy group.
“Being an active participant in the American political process is not inconsistent with being a good Muslim,” Ahmed said.
More than 60 people attended the lecture, titled “Muslims, Politics and the 2008 Elections,” in Tate Hall on the MU campus. The event was sponsored by the Muslim Student Organization and the Islamic Center of Central Missouri.
Top issues for Muslim voters mirror the top concerns of the general American public, said Ahmed, who was citing a 2008 study by the council. Muslim voters said education, civil rights, health care and the economy are the issues they focus on when selecting a candidate.
According to the study, 84 percent of respondents said Muslims should strongly emphasize shared values with Christians and Jews. While many respondents believed that the religions worship the same God, other studies show the general American pubic shares a different viewpoint.
“Disproportionately, the majority of Americans do not have the understanding that the same God Muslims worship is the same that Christians and Jews do,” he said.
Ahmed said one in two Muslim Americans have either been discriminated against or felt they were profiled, according to the study. Hate crimes against the Muslim community have significantly increased in the last two to three years.
Proliferation of anti-Muslim rhetoric by public officials reinforces negative stereotypes about the Islamic community, he said. He cited examples from President Bush, Sen. John McCain and numerous other senators and representatives.
“This kind of policy provokes the point of view that somehow Muslims are guilty and it is up to them to prove their innocence,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed encouraged members of the Muslim community to insist that elected officials address issues that are important their community and “do more than simply show up.”
“At the end of the day, civic work is about making things better,” Ahmed said. However, he said that there is no easy solution to the problems the Muslim community face.
“There is no instant gratification in this work,” he said.
Ahmed is an associate professor of Finance at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and an at-large board member for the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida. In 2002, Ahmed received a Civil Liberties award from the South-Central Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU. He is the chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil liberties group in the U.S.