Muslim Voices first interviewed Professor Abdulkader Sinno when President Obama was running for his first term in 2007, discussing Muslims in Western politics. Fourteen years later, I sat down for a follow up with Professor Sinno to see what has changed about the Muslim community’s position in politics. I was curious to know what effect President Obama’s policies may have had. Professor Sinno first started explaining how the American right wing treated Obama and what effect that had on the Muslim community,
“Obama was attacked as being a Muslim, by the far right. And in this country, and surveys found that even recently, well after President Obama finished his eight-year term, about 18% of the American public still believes that he was a Muslim. And which is not true, of course, because he was Christian. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the problem was, it was being used as a smear.”
This was a major issue during Obama’s presidency; people were falsely claiming he was a Muslim and that being a Muslim was somehow a bad thing which led some in the American right wing to have no issue harnessing Islamophobia to their advantages then. This is a hypocritical message for any American political party to share because a fundamental right in the U.S is to have religious freedom. However, following President Obama, the U.S elected President Trump. The Muslim community was nervous at this time:
“It was nightmarish in many ways. Because President Candidate Trump when he was running in 2015, he would make statements such as Islam hates us, or that he wants to survey mosques or even close mosques what have you. And this was all self-serving a total speech, of course, to get his base to vote for him, particularly evangelical and all the conservative groups.”
In this context it makes sense that many members of the Muslim community felt nervous about President Trump. His rhetoric suggested that he would be heavily monitoring Muslims and try to close their mosques, which would limit an essential part of Islam. Another reason some Muslims felt fearful of this rhetoric is because the United States has a history of spying on the Muslim community. Furthermore after 9/11 the Patriot Act was passed, which according to a report from the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding was used by the government to discriminate against American Muslims.
On another note, the outlook for Muslims in American politics is not all negative. The situation for Muslims is continuing to improve. More Muslims in America are being elected to positions from local to federal government. According to Professor Sinno one aspect of this is because progressive districts are open to more diverse candidates:
“In particular districts [it is easier for Muslims to be elected], not all districts. For example, if you look at the three congressional districts held by representatives who are of Muslim background, you see that they happen to be all very progressive districts.”
The results of their elections would seem to agree with this statement. According to the New York Time’s reporting on the 2022 election, Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Andre Carson (D-IN) all won by wide margins in their districts. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have large numbers of Muslims in their communities. Their status as representatives matter because they reflect the interests of their constituents, and in the past Muslim constituents have not had a lot of representation in federal politics.
As I mentioned earlier, Muslims have had their civil liberties violated by the Patriot Act, so equal rights and protection means a lot to many Muslims. Equal rights are a major aspect of progressive politics in the United States, which is why future Muslim politicians may run under the progressive banner. During Obama’s presidency, the far-right used Islamophobia against President Obama which continued to create challenges for Muslims in America. This did not stop Muslim politicians from running for office to improve the Islamic community’s position in the United States. They have found allies in progressive politicians, who champion universal rights and help elect Muslims.
Zayd Esmail Memon received his undergraduate degree in International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington in May 2023. He is currently preparing to go to Sri Lanka as a Peace Corps volunteer.