Ahmed Khan is running for alderman (city council member) in Chicago's 50th Ward
Ahmed Khan is running for alderman (city council member) in Chicago's 50th Ward

Much of the attention on Chicago's local elections February 22 is focused on the race for mayor.  Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun lead a list of candidates seeking the office currently held by Mayor Richard Daley.  But in those same elections, an increased number of Muslim American candidates also are seeking positions on Chicago's city council.  

Ahmed Khan is running for alderman (city council member) in Chicago's 50th Ward.

He is the son of Indian immigrants and knows many neighborhood people from working at his parent's grocery store.

"We talk about grassroots politics, and grass roots activism," said Khan.  "But I think that our elected officials need to have a grass roots approach.  And I think that grass roots passion has been lacking in this ward."

What Khan says is not lacking is religious tolerance and acceptance.

"I have openly identified myself as a Muslim on our campaign literature," added Khan.  "I've talked about the various organizations, Muslim non-profits I've worked for, and in various interviews."

Khan is one of several Muslim American candidates running for office in Chicago.  He says he is not deterred by the fact no Muslim American has previously won election to the city council.

And as Reema Ahmad with the political action group Project Mobilize observes, it is only a matter of time.

"This is the first time we have a specific effort coming out of the Muslim American community to not sit back anymore and actually become engaged in the political system that governs all of us," said Ahmad.

Project Mobilize promotes Muslim American candidates in local elections in Chicago's southwest suburbs.

"The Muslim community is excited to see some of their own coming out of the woodwork again and realizing that political potential is not only for people of other communities, but this is something that our community too an take advantage of," added Ahmad.

Mahmoud Bambouyani says his reputation, not religion, gives him the advantage in his campaign for alderman in Chicago's 38th Ward.

"There is a saying that success will overcome prejudice," said Bambouyani.  "And I think I am a successful person, and I think a lot of people respect me for who I am, not what my name is."

Bambouyani came to Chicago from Iran in 1973, with $300 in his pocket.  He overcame personal tragedy - his wife and one of his daughters died in the earthquake in Bam, Iran in 2003 - and operates a successful karate institute.

He says through good times and bad, his community has been supportive and accepting, and now is the time to give back.

"I really feel this time is a good time, this time is the right time, and there is tremendous acceptance," Bambouyani noted.

Bambouyani is one of two Persian American candidates on the ballot, and, like Ahmed Khan, is seeking be the first with his ethnic background to serve on Chicago's city council.

Regardless of the election results, Project Mobilize has its sights set on making political history. It is promoting seven Muslim American candidates in municipal elections in suburban Chicago in April. And five of them are women.