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Kelsey Sheehy/MEDILL

Maryam Al-Zoubi helps Saleh Mohamed of Bridgeview fill out his voter registration form at the Oak Lawn Village Hall Thursday.

Muslim voters make their voices heard, early

by Kelsey Sheehy
Oct 21, 2010

Kiran Ansari voted for the first time ever this week. 

A new citizen, Ansari, 34, of Roselle, said she hopes her vote will send a message to politicians and a ‘thank you’ to supporters of the Muslim community. 

“Standing up for issues when it’s not the most popular thing to do takes real courage,” Ansari said. “And that deserves my first vote.” 

Before casting that vote, Ansari joined other Muslim leaders Thursday in a non-partisan effort to to mobilize Muslim-American voters.  

Ansari is part of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which spearheaded Thursdays early-voting event.  Joining in the effort were the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. 

The groups said they were supporting candidates who are in favor of immigration reform and ending the wars.  They are also looking for politicians who will allow the Muslim community to expand and build mosques and Islamic centers.  

Many of the voters gathered at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview and traveled as a group to the Oak Lawn Village Hall following afternoon prayers. 

Among those voting early were Saleh and Suad Mohamed of Bridgeview.  

“I just want to be counted as a Muslim voter in America,” Suad said.  “To be treated with respect and to be counted as a regular human being.” They would not disclose which candidates they supported. 

Unlike Ansari, the Mohameds are regular voters, and they want what many do from a candidate. 

“We want decent people who are working for the people, not for the lobbyists and interests in Washington, D.C.,” Saleh said. 

They also want candidates who will address Islamophobia, so their children and grandchildren do not have to live in fear. 

“It’s scary,” Saleh said. “We want our elected officials to be aware of that and how they can diffuse negativity against Islam.” 

Saleh said the way to do that is to educate people about her religion. 

“I want all candidates to learn about Islam for themselves,” she said. “If you read the Quran, it says all peace to everyone.” 

Nearly 400,000 Muslims, from various cultural backgrounds, are living in Illinois, organizers said.  Maryam Al-Zoubi added herself to that number when she moved to Chicago two months ago. 

Al-Zoubi came to Chicago to help the Muslims exercise their political power.    

A fellow with the New American Democracy Project, she leads a group of 45 volunteers in mobilizing the Muslim vote in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.  The group works six days a week, knocking on doors, calling potential voters, attending events and lectures to let people know the importance of voting Nov. 2. 

Al-Zoubi said they are seeing their hard work pay off. 

“People come up to me and say ‘Where’s my polling location?’” she said. “It’s so exciting the potential of what we can do.”