In the last presidential election, well over half of American Muslims cast their ballots for the Republican candidate. This year, surveys show the majority prefers John Kerry. Both parties are courting the Muslim vote.
When Muhammad Ali Hasan co-founded 'Muslims for Bush,' he was trying to do in the political arena what he does through his narrative filmmaking. The 24-year-old director says his goal is to educate Americans, especially Muslim Americans, about societal problems and possible solutions. To Mr. Hasan, President Bush is the best man to implement those solutions.
"We really love President Bush," he said. "We love what he's doing. We feel that not everyone knows the truth about President Bush's record, and we want to come out there and tell them that he's good for Muslims. He's good for the world. We need to continue with him."
Mr. Hasan has two main goals for his organization.
"Number one is we're trying to convince Muslims to vote for President Bush because feel like he's correct on every single issue," said Muhammad Ali Hasan. "The second thing is we want Americans to know he's a good president. And that he is dealing very well with the situation regarding the war on terror, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. His foreign policy is a winning solution for both the Muslim world and for us against the war on terror."
Mr. Hasan says that his fellow Muslim voters are undecided, and need to know the facts about the candidates to help them choose. He says both parties are wooing the Muslim vote.
"Both the Democrats and the Republicans are hiring additional Muslim staffers," he said. "They are trying to make more efforts to meet with American Muslim groups. Obviously their internal polls are saying to them that Muslim vote is very undecided and very up for grabs."
And it's up for grabs in some very strategic places, so-called swing states with large Muslim American communities. According to Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News and chairman of the Congress of Arab American Organizations in Michigan, the Muslim vote can de decisive in this election.
"From the recent polls that I looked at, from either the West Coast or the East Coast, it shows that the battleground states, and there are 17 of them, some of them have a majority of Muslim undecided vote," said Usama Seblani. "So the Muslim vote will make a difference this elections in the battleground states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other areas."
In the last election, Muslims voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. This time, says Mr. Seblani, they might choose differently. "Muslims Americans were ignored several times, before 9-11, to meet with him in the White House," he said. "I truly believe that the choices are very difficult this election. I see just from what I can gather from Muslim community nationwide that they are not very happy with the Bush administration. It's time to change."
That view is echoed by Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society. He says there is little support for Mr. Bush this year.
"I can just tell you anecdotally, having trained over 2200 activists in civil workshops, visiting their mosques and organizations, their community centers, there is not very much enthusiasm for the Bush candidacy at all, unlike election 2000," said Mahdi Bray. "However, [Senator] Kerry has yet to be able to resonate. I think if people vote for Kerry, it's not because of John Kerry. He has not reached out to the Muslim community in a way many would like to see him reach out."
Shahid Khan of 'Muslims for Kerry' admits that the Democratic candidate has not reached out, and says his group is working with the Senator's campaign to change that... and to put him in the White House. Mr. Khan says a Democratic administration would be better for the American Muslim community than four more years of a Republican one.
"You're not electing one person," said Shahid Khan. "You're electing a party, thousand of people who are going to be appointed to positions. If you look at the Republican base and the Democratic, there is much more hostility toward Muslims in the Republican base no matter what kind words Bush might say about Islam and Muslims."
Actions, not words, are what matters, according to 'Muslims for Bush' co-founder Muhammed Ali Hasan. He says just comparing Senator Kerry's record to President Bush's can swing the undecided Muslim vote into the Republican column. His group is offering $10,000 in prizes for the best artwork and movies demonstrating why all Americans, but especially Muslims, should re-elect the President. Shahid Khan's organization is at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America this weekend, registering voters and talking up their candidate. The emergence of these groups pleases Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society. He sees it as a positive step for a community that has long been known for its reluctance, and even apathy, when it comes to participating in America's political process.