Islam Online: Elections in America's Friday sermons
Many mosques across the US devoted the last Friday sermon before the historic 2008 presidential election to encourage their community to actively participate in their country's political process by voting on Election Day to choose the next president. "And so next Tuesday, is the moment of truth for a lot of people, where we get to make a choice," Ahmed Rehab told the congregation at the Muslim Educational Center in Morton Grove, Illinois.
"You pay taxes, you live here, you raise your children here, you have a right like anyone else to make that choice and to affect and influence the outcome of that choice."
Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, did not mention or recommend any candidate.
Election was also the main focus of the sermon delivered by Dawud Walid, Assistant Imam of Masjid Wali Muhammad.
"One of the biggest good value in the USA is that it has given freedom of speech and right of assembly to all its people irrespective of their race or religion," he told worshippers.
"Muslims should utilize these constitutional rights and should increase their civil engagements."
He challenged claims propagated by some that Muslims should not be voting in a non-Muslim country.
"This is a wrong notion…If Muslims continue the habit of living at distance from the mainstream community, it will largely hamper their civic engaments in the society."
Like Rehab, imam Walid did not ask Muslims to vote for a particular candidate.
"Though we may not find a perfect candidate to vote but we should support the one who is more prone towards good in the society. We should vote on the basis of issues."
Leading American Muslim organizations are stepping up their efforts to mobilize the votes of their sizable community to make their voice heard on Election Day.
Many of them will be making phone calls on November 4 to remind fellow Muslims of casting their votes on time.
Some will be providing free ride to people who don't have their conveyance to reach the polling stations.
In Illinois, Rehab spoke of the challenging facing American Muslims.
"There are some great things we have in this country but there are also things that need to change, things that need to change for the better," he said.
"And it is our moral duty as human beings, as Muslims, to stand up and challenge that which is unjust."
He cited the financial crisis, civil rights challenges and the Iraq war "that never should have been and implemented rather ungracefully."
Rehab also cited a 2006 poll by Washington Post and ABC News that found 46 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Islam.
"And so now, the challenge is for us to change that perception and to change those policies that are unjust, by participating in the process and doing what we can to make those changes happen."
Imam Walid, and Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan Chapter, agrees.
"Unless we are engaged in the political process and exercise our right to vote, we cannot dispel the negative impression regarding Muslims and Islam."
He urged Muslims to believe in their ability to contribute to changing things in their country.
"Muslims should not think pessimistically like they cannot bring any change or end the injustice and oppression from the society only because they are weak.
"Muslims should not adopt a pessimistic approach saying ‘one vote will make no difference’. In this country we have access to political engagements and also have the freedom of speech."
Nasrullah Jamal, 24, student from Somalia, doesn’t agree that exercising the right to vote will help emancipate the Muslim world from the unjust policies of the US government. He argues Muslims should instead look into their own problems and their solutions rather than exhausting themselves for or against a presidential candidate.
Jamal says for Muslims, both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are the same.
"None is better than the other."
Mushtaq Ahmad, a shop-keeper of Bangladeshi origin, think political engagements in society are beneficial only for the rich.
He says poor people like himself get nothing from elections whether here in the US or in his home country.
Still, Ahmed will be casting his vote on Election Day to fulfill his religious and moral obligation.
Sulaiman, a 42-year-old African American, says Imam Walid has cleared his confusion about his duties and obligations in this multi-cultural, non-Muslim society.
Moussa, a 46-year-old taxi driver of Kuwaiti origin, has never exercised his right of voting here in the US.
But says this time he will because he now believes that if Muslims remain politically disengaged their voice will remain unheard.
Moussa is offering free rides to at least 10 Muslim voters to the polling stations to show that Muslims are socially a responsible community.
In Morton Grove, Illinois, Adeeb Ansari, 24, liked the weekly sermon because Rehab encouraged Muslims to take action and get involved in the government.
"I was already prepared to vote but it was good to hear a Khutbah about this sort of stuff, because usually they don't talk about the importance of taking action and voting so it was good to hear."
Ansari plans to vote for Obama.
"I just feel like his message is more clearer than McCain's. I agree with more of his stances on health care, the military and the tax code and stuff like that."
Muslim community leaders interviewed separately by IOL predict that the majority of Muslims, estimated at nearly seven millions, will be voting for Obama, aspiring to become America's first ever black president.
Obama leads McCain 51 percent to 43 percent in a Gallup daily tracking poll of those deemed likely to cast ballots based on past voting behavior and current intentions.
A Fox poll of likely voters found 47 percent would vote for Obama and 44 percent for McCain if the election were held today.
The CBS/New York Times poll showed 52 percent of likely voters favored Obama while 41 percent supported McCain.
The words of change and hope in the sermon were not lost on Balqis Naseer, 26, who didn't expect to hear anything about the election in the Friday sermon.
"I'm going for Obama…Picking Obama will be better than McCain. McCain is following Bush's steps."
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