BOSTON – Provoked by what they see as civil-rights violations after the terrorist attacks of 2001, U.S. Muslims are growing more politically active and sophisticated.
The number of Muslim delegates to this year’s Democratic National Convention has grown by 60 percent. Forty Muslim delegates, including a Maryland woman, are representing 20 states at the 2004 convention, up from 25 Muslims — and no Marylanders — at the Democratic convention four years ago.
The selection of Erum Malik, 43, of Ellicott City, is an example of how greater numbers of Muslims are engaging in shaping public policy through grass-roots lobbying, voter registration drives, fund-raising and running for office since Sept. 11, 2001, community leaders said.
“There has been a historic and unprecedented under-representation of Muslims in government in America, from the county to the federal level,” said Saqib Ali of North Potomac, a computer engineer active with the nonpartisan Montgomery County Muslim Council.
“We have been a politically immature community,” said Ali, who attended a reception for the Maryland delegation as Malik’s guest.
The terrorist attacks “jolted people out of their complacency,” he said.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim groups were “naive” about the workings of the American political system, said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, an Islamic think-tank in Bethesda.
Ahmad said he believes strong Muslim support helped deliver Florida to George Bush in 2000, with exit polls showing an overwhelming percentage of Florida Muslims voted Republican.
Many Muslims came to regret their support for the Bush campaign when they became subject to profiling, arrest and registration after the attacks, Ahmad said.
“People are beginning to realize . . . they need to get their act together and get into politics,” said Mushtaque Mirza, an executive board member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, who helped organize an event honoring Muslim convention delegates at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge. “I think Muslims are getting more politically aware.”
Part of that political awareness has meant Muslim voter registration has shifted from the Republican Party toward the Democrats, said several Muslim delegates from Texas and Minnesota gathered at the Islamic Society event Tuesday.
In Texas, for example, mostly South Asian Muslim groups have registered thousands of voters and encouraged community participation, leading to Texas bringing the single-largest number of Muslim delegates — seven — to this year’s convention.
Muslim groups also have developed more sophisticated political tactics recently, forming coalitions and conducting interfaith dialogues in a way that would have been impossible four years ago, Ahmad said.
“Muslims have to let people know they’re a swing vote if they want to be effective,” Ahmad said.
In Maryland, Muslim communities in Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties have formed councils to work with local governments and school boards on issues important to them, such as obtaining a permit for a new mosque along Route 128 in Howard County and petitioning for public recognition of Muslim holidays, Malik, the Maryland delegate, said.
Malik has been involved in Democratic, Muslim and Asian community causes for decades. She has raised funds for Howard County Democrats for years, and serves on the Equity Board for the Howard County School Board.
An immigrant who came to America 40 years ago, Malik also serves on a multicultural task force at Howard Community College and works with the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats.
“Liberty is for everybody,” Malik said. “Unless we do get involved in this political process, our voices won’t be heard.”
Malik represents about 1 percent of the 99-member Maryland voting delegation, almost the same proportion as the Muslim population in Maryland.
About 0.9 percent of all 4,332 convention delegates this year are Muslim, compared to 0.75 to 2.25 percent of the U.S. population.
Ali feels Muslim communities take on political power when they band together.
“Organizing a community is itself a political act,” he said. “We’re going to go and serve our country as Americans and as Muslims, and there’s no contradiction in that.”