When it started last year, the non-profit group Project Mobilize, or Project M, hoped to change the political landscape in suburban Chicago by promoting Muslim Americans as election candidates. So far, there are no Muslim Americans serving as elected officials in the Chicago area. But Project M hopes that will change in municipal elections April 5.
In the countdown to election day, Maha Hasan is making a final push to get out the vote.
She is running for a position as a trustee with the Justice Public Library. Justice is a Chicago suburb.
“The demographics have significantly changed. You see a lot more Polish immigrants coming in. You see a lot more Latin Americans. You see more, definitely more Middle Eastern Arab Americans migrating in,” she said.
Hasan is hoping to make history as the first Muslim American candidate elected to the Justice Public Library board. She is one of seven Muslim Americans on ballots in municipal elections in suburban Chicago April 5. Five are women.
“As far as me being a Muslim female running for this, and wearing the headscarf and obviously following a more traditional Islamic role and obligation, it might be difficult in that people will look at me and automatically judge me, but that’s part of the process of getting people to know who I am and what I offer as a Muslim female American of Arab descent living in this country,” she said.
Hasan has familiar company on the campaign trail. Her sister Nuha is running for a position as commissioner with the Justice Park District.
Maha and Nuha Hasan are on ballots thanks to the non-profit group Project Mobilize, run by Reema Ahmad. She says there is a similarity between the efforts in suburban Chicago, and the changes underway in the Middle East.
“We’re having our own revolution where we want to get more people involved, change people’s mind-set. You can actually have a say in your local government. You can do something about the park district, about the libraries. If you have a really good idea, you can get involved. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. And that’s what we are trying to do here,” she said.
Ahmed Aduib is running for a position on the Bridgeview library board. He says before now, there was a reluctance in the Muslim American community to be active in politics.
“It took the Muslim community a while to realize that we need to start getting active, we need to start pushing. You know this country is our country just like anyone else. I was born and raised here, so I might as well start making a difference here,” he said.
Aduib says his candidacy, and the record number of Muslim Americans seeking office in elections Tuesday, show that his community is active and engaged, despite concerns raised by U.S. Representative Peter King at a recent Congressional hearing about homegrown Muslim extremists.
“We were planning on doing this before obviously Peter King came out and started with these basically, witch trials. They’re going out trying to figure out Muslims who are in different communities, trying to say that these are condoning terrorism or allowing, and that’s not the case," Aduib said. "This whole Project Mobilize couldn’t have come at a better time, especially in our community, to show that no - this is not the case. We’re here to make sure that we make a difference along with every other American.”
While Project Mobilize is pushing for victories for all seven of its candidates, Reema Ahmad says the experience so far is itself a milestone the organization can build on as it prepares for future elections.