Muslim community leaders decry Islamophobic rhetoric in presidential election

Panelists Azam Nizamuddin, Ahmed Rehab and Saeed Khan criticize anti-Islam policies and rhetoric during a discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 27. (Photo by Stefan Carlson)

During a panel discussion on Islam and U.S. elections hosted by the Niebuhr Center and the Office of Chaplain on Sept. 27, highly-esteemed leaders of the Muslim community criticized anti-Islam policies and rhetoric for perpetuating Islamophobia.

Azam Nizamuddin, an adjunct professor of Islam at Loyola University and an attorney, took the podium to shed light on the realities faced by many Muslim Americans today in light of the U.S presidential elections.

“Mr. Trump [has] made many anti-Muslim statements during his televised appearances on mainstream news and media outlets,” Nizamuddin said. “He called for shutting down mosques in the wake of the Paris attacks and banning Muslims from entering this country.”

Since then, American Muslims have faced a drastic in- crease in violence.

“By Dec. 2015, there were 53 total attacks: 17 targeted mosques and Islamic schools and five of which targetted Muslim homes,” Nizamuddin said. “[Since the 2016 presidential elections] American Muslim men have been twice as likely to be victims of physical assaults.”

Nizamuddin asserted that the violence against Muslims is deeply rooted from the deliberate popularization of anti-Muslim rhetoric funded by both people of power and media outlets.

“It is not an accident ladies and gentlemen as to how we got here despite the fact that Muslims in general have very comfortably integrated in American Society,” he said. “It is in the arena of politics and the media these ideas of Islam and Muslims continue to fester, that is really where the challenge will be.”

Nizamuddin blames the accessibility of anti-Muslim works in educational settings and bookstores as the culprit of the mainstreaming of anti Muslim views.

“In the early 2000s, I remember very prominently...books by a guy by the name of Robert Spencer, a vehemently anti Muslim writer who has a Catholic background and promotes anti Muslim rhetoric all across the board,” Nizamuddin said.

Nizamuddin also elaborated on how the promotion of this rhetoric opens the door for those with anti-Muslim beliefs to positions of power.

“All of these people and ideas are not in the sort of recesses of a particular right wing or left wing extremism venue but they have been mainstreamed into American society; thereby, fodder for someone like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or anyone else that can use that ammunition to gain higher public office.”

Nizamuddin was followed by Saeed Khan, professor of American and European Islam at Wayne State University, who explained how lawmakers attached additional stipulations to anti-Muslim legislature because of voters willingness to support such laws.

“In the summer of 2013, there was the dreaded SB 695, which was branded as an anti-Shariah bill, but before it went to the floor for a vote someone tacked on at the last minute a rider which severely restricted women’s access to reproductive healthcare,” he said.

“If you lead with the anti-Shariah bill you’re not going to get too much protestation,” Khan added. “There’s either not enough Muslims in North Carolina or the feeling that they lack the social and political capital to then hurt people at the polling booth.”

As a member of EC’s Muslim Student Association (MSA), senior Talal Khan acknowledges the increasing presence of Islamophobia in U.S. society and the systematic oppression made possible by legislation. “What can we Muslims do to specifically help our situation that we’ve been experiencing?” Khan asked. “What do you guys think we could do as Muslims that help us play a role in figuring out a solution to this problem?”

“Learn how coalitions develop and work with other organizations to try to do good in your own neighborhood,” answered Nizamuddin. “They tend to be much deeper and much longer lasting and they really make a difference. So think local and also act local.”

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of Council on American-Islamic Relations, firmly advocates the refusal to take the role of the minority in mainstream society. “I don’t think of myself as a minority when it comes to being American,” Rehab said. “When I go to vote for example, I don’t have a special booth that says ‘Muslim’ on it,” he said.

“I vote on the same lane and on the same issues throughout ... when I go to the voting booth I don’t go as a minority, I go as a majority of one, it’s called American.”

It’s not good enough to spend my life to tell you I’m normal,” Rehab added. “And hopefully you will accept that. It’s like clawing a way to get to ground zero. I have higher ambitions than that, my parents invested in me to be better than that. I love this country far too much to settle for that.”