Muslims Hope To 'Wake Up' At The Ballot Box This Year Though Muslims make up a small voting bloc, their votes can matter in close elections. This year, many feel a renewed sense of urgency to choose leaders that will represent them.
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Muslims Hope To 'Wake Up' At The Ballot Box This Year

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Muslims Hope To 'Wake Up' At The Ballot Box This Year

Muslims Hope To 'Wake Up' At The Ballot Box This Year

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, Muslims are a small percentage of the U.S. population, but they are playing a big role in some key races in this election. NPR's Leila Fadel reports that one of the places they're making an impact is Minnesota.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Do you plan on voting early, absent or in person?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: On a recent afternoon at an office building in St. Paul, Minn., people are making calls to get out the vote. There's one table of phone bankers calling Native Americans, another reaching out to Latinos. And for the first time...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you guys for coming. I want to make sure give you signup sheets for...

FADEL: ...A group calling Muslims and asking them to vote. This is ISAIAH, a multiracial coalition of faith communities, and until last year, it was mostly churches, but this year, 24 mosques are involved. The focus - voter turnout in communities of color. Asad Zaman, a Muslim cleric from the area, is texting thousands of people from an iPad.

ASAD ZAMAN: Now more than ever it is critical that we vote our values and ensure politicians respect the dignity of every person.

FADEL: He points out there are 50,000 registered Muslim voters in Minnesota. Zaman is the executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. He says this year, with Muslims and immigrants used as bogeymen in political rhetoric, voting is vital.

ZAMAN: So the community is under assault. And fortunately most of us are beginning to understand that and are waking up.

FADEL: On November 6, the state may be one of two sending the first Muslim women to Congress. Here it's a Somali-American named Ilhan Omar.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: And we have Ilhan in the house, y'all.

(APPLAUSE)

ILHAN OMAR: We are stuck in a system that continuously is prioritizing profits over people.

FADEL: Omar is pumping up volunteers before they head out to knock on doors. Part of what's fascinated the country about Omar is that she embodies one idea of the American dream. She was a refugee who had to flee war-torn Somalia. Today she's an American, a Muslim and an immigrant who will likely take the House seat in this district that's gone Democrat for more than 50 years. She says when she came to the U.S. as a kid and struggled with English...

OMAR: My dad would say, once you are able to communicate with people, you know, they're able to connect with you beyond your otherness.

FADEL: So connecting with voters face to face that are like and unlike her is the crux of her campaign. Omar says that's what got her to the Statehouse and will likely take her to Congress.

OMAR: Because 70 percent of the people I currently represent and the people that I will have the opportunity to represent in Congress are white. And, you know, nearly 90 percent of them are non-Muslims.

FADEL: In the primary, she beat her closest opponent by more than 20,000 votes, and she captured a lot of that enthusiasm as a democratic socialist, especially among young people with a platform that includes banning private prisons and canceling student debt. She's running for Keith Ellison's seat, who served for 12 years and was the country's first Muslim congressman. Now he's running statewide for attorney general in a very tight race. In part it's tight because of a domestic abuse allegation that Ellison denies and his party investigated and says was unfounded. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the country, and Ilhan Omar's run for office is exciting many.

KALTUN ALI: Actually, I can't wait to vote, to be honest. For me, it's personal. I'll be honest. I am Somali, and I am Muslim.

FADEL: That's Kaltun Ali, who's shopping for curtains. She says she's been afraid in recent years.

ALI: America became unsafe for us and very sad and racist and a lot of bigotry.

FADEL: Most Muslim voters lean Democrat, although some 13 percent lean Republican, and there are swing states where Muslims have larger political influence, says Wa'el Alzayat. He's at Emgage, which tries to raise political engagement among Muslims.

WA'EL ALZAYAT: About 120,000 registered Muslim voters in the state of Michigan. You have about 120,000 registered in Florida. You have about a hundred thousand registered in Virginia. And those numbers really matter in close elections.

FADEL: Alzayat already sees signs that Muslim turnout will be higher than in past midterms, a trend also showing up among young people and other minority communities. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Minneapolis.

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