CHICAGO – Knocking the doors of political life, an increased number of American Muslims is running in local elections in the mid-western US city of Chicago, making a new history for the Muslim minority in the United States.
“We talk about grassroots politics, and grass roots activism,” Ahmed Khan, a Muslim candidate running for alderman (city council member) in Chicago's 50th Ward, told Voice of America.
“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.”
At least two American Muslims running in Chicago local elections on Tuesday, February 22.
The vote will also see the election of a new mayor for the city.
Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun lead a list of candidates seeking the office.
Anticipating a controversy about his religion, Khan, of Indian origin, says he is not lacking religious tolerance and acceptance.
“I have openly identified myself as a Muslim on our campaign literature,” said Khan, who is familiar with his neighborhood residents for his work at his parent’s grocery store.
“I've talked about the various organizations, Muslim non-profits I've worked for, and in various interviews.”
Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, many Muslims have complained of facing discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.
A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
The Muslim candidacy is hailed as a breakthrough for the engagement of the Muslim minority in the US.
“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,” Reema Ahmad, an observer at the political action group Project Mobilize, told Voice Of America.
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,” Ahmad said.
Keith Alison was the first Muslim American to be elected to the US Congress in 2007.
Mahmoud Bambouyani, another Muslim candidate, 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 emigrated from Iran the US in1973.
Going through a personal tragedy, losing his wife and one of his daughters in the earthquake in Bam, Iran in 2003, Bambouyani found himself supported by his community.
Now he operates a successful karate institute and thinks it is time for paying them back.
“I really feel this time is a good time,” Bambouyani said.
“This time is the right time, and there is tremendous acceptance.”