Why US Muslims must register to vote

US Muslims: Registering to vote protects against Islamophobic politicians & policies
5 min read

Ishraq Ali

13 September, 2023
With National Muslim Voter Registration Day just around the corner, MPower Change director Ishraq Ali urges Muslims in the US to mobilise & have their votes counted, especially against politicians peddling Islamophobia in future elections.
There was a drop in Muslim civic engagement during the 2022 US midterm elections. Ishraq Ali explains it may be because Muslims believed their job was done when Trump was voted out of office. [GETTY]

In the 2022 midterm elections, as Muslims we saw a drop in our civic engagement activities, from the number of volunteers to voter turnout. Perhaps we are burned out, perhaps we assume that after we voted Trump out of office during the last presidential elections, our role as community members was complete, but it is not.

Our votes in the local elections and midterms shape policies that affect us on daily bases. And we have the power to do so as long as we get our voices out there.

With one million registered Muslim voters in 2020, we have the numbers and capability to focus on the issues affecting us: rising costs of healthcare, inflation, workplace rights, relatives who cannot see their loved ones due to immigration policies. If we don't advocate for ourselves, politicians will continue to pass legislation that does not reflect our values and interests. One key to civic engagement is voting - it ensures we directly impact issues that matter to us as a Muslim community and helps us work for a more just society based on our values.

As a community constantly under attack, getting our votes counted is one important way to protect us from politicians who normalise Islamophobia and build their political campaigns on vilifying us.

We have the numbers to create the impact we need, but we need to be more consistent. In 2016, Muslim voter registration was only 60%, the lowest among faith communities. And unfortunately, we saw the consequences of that. President Trump enacted the Muslim Ban, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court. Anti-Muslim hate crimes peaked. Workplace protections and unions were further weakened, and there was no clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented Muslims and other immigrants.

The Muslim community was so easily targeted because we did not represent a force that made politicians recognise our power. We were not perceived as a significant voting bloc.

However, in 2020, voter registration within the Muslim community reached an unprecedented 81%. Organisations such as Emgage embarked on a mission that involved millions of phone calls encouraging Muslims to register. Additionally, they dispatched over 3.6 million text messages and sent more than 400,000 mailers. Teams of volunteers knocked on over 20,000 doors, conducted over 50 organising training sessions, and mobilised 672 volunteers across the nation.

When we had had enough of politicians who built their campaigns on anti-Muslim rhetoric; we were a force, and it paid off. Our turnout was substantial enough to influence the results in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

And even though Islamophobia is far from over, last year, CAIR registered a decline in the number of complaints from Muslim Americans for the first time since 1995. We need to remain as cohesive as we did in 2020 and demonstrate, once again, that candidates must address the concerns of Muslim voters. And we must do this year-round, not just in presidential elections.

In my everyday work, when I urge people to register to vote, one question comes up most frequently: "Why vote if the system is broken? Why vote when officials, who once seemed to align with our values and are supposed to represent us, pass legislation that overlooks our community or remain silent when our community is under attack?" It's easy to declare the political system broken, and in many ways, it is. However, steering away from engagement altogether would only hurt us further.


Repetition and everyday engagement are what make changes possible in the long run. With our votes, we can ensure that Muslim community members serve in various capacities and will advocate for policies that benefit our communities on a local level, from school boards to the House of Representatives. It is not a one-time thing; we must be politically engaged year round.

However, engagement does not mean deciphering political analysis on the web, podcasts, and TV. Most often, the term "politics," especially for those who fled authoritarian regimes in the MENA region, is synonymous with retaliation. For some, steering away from politics is the best way to avoid headaches, to avoid the circumstances that probably forced them to flee and immigrate to the US. This is why it is important to remind our community that as Muslim Americans, it is our civic duty to be heard.

To do that, we can start within our community circles, register ourselves to vote, register our friends, family, and all those around us, talk to people before or after Jummah prayer, in between classes at school, during your work break, and find out what issues are impacting us in our daily lives and how. After all, if we don't represent ourselves, no one will.

Ishraq Ali is a community organiser trained in faith based and grassroots advocacy models. He was a student leader with MAS Boston. He was formally trained through the IAF and then gained experience organising with NYCC in New York. In the aftermath of the 2016 elections he joined the first national digitally native Muslim advocacy organisation, MPower Change. He trains Muslim leaders on grassroots leadership both online and on the ground. His team has orchestrated campaigns tackling anti Muslim bias, anti-immigrant legislation & civic engagement through the MyMuslimVote campaign. He looks to apply the Prophetic example in building power and win campaigns as Organising Director of MPower Change.

Follow Him on Twitter: @freshouttatime

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