Muslims and Arab-Americans push voter registration

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BY MICHAEL MATZA
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

PHILADELPHIA – Ez-Zohra Baidouri, 73, left Morocco in 1986, settled with her family in Northeast Philadelphia, and became a U.S. citizen15 years ago.

Muslim men get ready for Friday jummah prayer on Sept. 30 at Masjid Al Furqan in Philadelphia. Offended by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigration as a way to end terrorism, Muslim-Americans are pushing back with grassroots voter-registration drives.(PHOTOS BY CHARLES FOX/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/TNS)
Muslim men get ready for Friday jummah prayer on Sept. 30 at Masjid Al Furqan in Philadelphia. Offended by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigration as a way to end terrorism, Muslim-Americans are pushing back with grassroots voter-registration drives.
(PHOTOS BY CHARLES FOX/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/TNS)

On a recent afternoon, after prayers at Masjid Al Furqan mosque on Roosevelt Boulevard near Cottman Avenue, she signed a voter registration form — a first for her.

“Trump, not,” she said.

Zakir Ullah, 37, born in Pakistan and naturalized in 2007, stopped by the volunteers’ table outside the mosque to get a form for his wife, 30-year-old Husna.

“I’m registered, she is not,” Ullah said. “We have to pick the person who will be better for the country. I prefer Hillary.”

‘Yalla Vote’
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call to stop Muslim immigration, and his swipes at Arab countries as incubators of terrorism, have offended some Arab-American and Muslim American groups.

They are pushing back with voter registration drives.

“Yalla Vote” — roughly translated as “come on, vote” — is a national initiative of the nonprofit Arab American Institute, which is targeting the 12 states with the highest concentrations of Arab Americans.

Because voter registration forms do not ask for religious affiliation, no one knows how many Muslim Americans are registered voters.

As for numbers of Arab-Americans state to state, AAI’s estimates are higher than census figures.

161014_politics02bThe institute contends the government undercounts Arab-Americans because of ambiguity in the census question on ancestry, and “distrust/misunderstanding of government surveys among recent immigrants.”

Voting, not candidates
Yalla Vote’s organizers say they are promoting voting, not candidates, and that their mission is to use the power of the ballot box to put Arab Americans at the forefront of national conversations on such topics as surveillance, profiling, immigration, and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

At the Muslim American Society of Philadelphia, a mosque, school, and community center, director Naser Khatib has joined a national campaign by the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations to register one million voters. The driving force, the organization says, is a sharp rise in Islamophobia.

“We want to show Trump, and even Hillary, that we are here and we will vote,” he said. “Vote is power.”

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