WASHINGTON – A coalition of U.S. Muslim groups announced Wednesday it had reached its goal of having 1 million Muslim-American registered voters. And leaders attributed their success to one main source – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“I’d like to thank Donald Trump for energizing the Muslim community in such a fashion,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, at a news conference. “I have never seen such mobilizing of the Muslim community.”
There are about 3.3 million Muslims living in the U.S., about 1 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2016 estimates by the Pew Research Center. An October survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that 86 percent of registered Muslim voters intend to vote in this year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Trump has done a favor to the Muslim community — to wake them up and make them realize that we live in America,” Jammal said in an interview, “This is the country where you have to exercise your right and fulfill your obligation to shape up the future of the U.S.”
Last December, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations set a goal of ensuring that at least 1 million Muslim Americans would be registered to vote in the election. About 500,000 Muslim Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Several council leaders said they believe the number of registered voters doubled in response to Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric and what they called the “fearful” environment that has been created for Muslim communities..
In December, the Republican nominee proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country. Trump has also suggested profiling Muslims may be a good idea in response to terror attacks. There was an 87.5 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the days immediately after Trump’s ban proposal, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
“Friends of mine have children who have asked, ‘If Trump gets elected, are we going to have to leave the country?” Kristin Szremski, spokeswoman for the American Muslims for Palestine, said in an interview,. “’If Trump gets elected, is the army going to come take us away in the middle of the night?’”
U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations Secretary General Oussama Jammal said “large concentrations of Muslim voters in key swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia” could tip the election.
Both parties are ignoring the growing Muslim population based on the assumption that they don’t vote, Islamic Council of New York Executive Director Cheikh Mbarack, said in an interview. He believes the Muslim vote will make a noticeable difference in close races this presidential election.
Szremski said the increase in voter registration among Muslim Americans is not solely in response to Trump’s candidacy. She said the rise in political activity started with support for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton does not engender the same enthusiasm, she said.
“It’s offensive when [Clinton] tells Muslims: ‘Oh, you’re welcome here We need you to be on the front lines. We need you to be our eyes and ears,’ as if she’s asking us to be informants on each other,” Szremski said.