CAIRO – Getting more active in politics, an expected vote on constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is dividing Minnesota Muslims, with both backers and opponents trying to court the growing religious minority.
"Muslims are becoming more and more active," John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron who studies politics and religion, told Star Tribune.
"They're on people's radar screens as folks that might vote, that might be persuaded. That might be willing to listen to arguments."
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As Minnesota's Muslim population grows, both sides of the marriage amendment debate are vying to tap their growing activism and win over an estimated 50,000 potential voters.
Working for the looming Nov. 6 vote, Winnie Okafor, a community relations coordinator for Minnesota for Marriage, went to Tawfiq Islamic Center in north Minneapolis on Friday stumping for yes votes for the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
"We're getting good support from them ... both from the members of these mosques and also the imams," she said.
"We're getting people signing our pledge forms. It's a big deal, because you're getting the voter to think ahead to what they're going to do in November.
"I think a lot of them are really sensitive to ... what becomes of the way we can raise our children when marriage is defined contrary to something our faith holds so dear."
On the other side, Rev. Grant Stevensen, faith director at Minnesotans United For All Families, was at the opposition headquarters, working with young Muslim staffers to get out the no vote.
Stevensen said he doesn't expect Muslims to vote as a bloc on the question.
Same-sex relationship and marriage are totally prohibited in Islam, Christianity and all divine religions.
Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts, nor in any way indulge in their propagation.
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is not a sin, but considers homosexual intercourse as sinful.
About 150,000 live in Minnesota, many of them immigrants from Africa and Asia. Upwards of 50,000 are registered voters in Minnesota, Muslim leaders estimate.
In the US, 31 states have passed constitutional amendments or legislation against same-sex marriage.
Though American Muslims do not endorse same-sex relations, some saw the vote as carving discrimination into the constitution.
"I think it's a private matter, in terms of marriage in general," Makram El-Amin, an imam at the Masjid An-Nur mosque in north Minneapolis where Keith Ellison worships, said.
"My position was nuanced. In Islam, we're not proponents of same-sex marriage," he said.
"That's something from our faith tradition we uphold, that institution [marriage] in that form."
Ellison also says people don't necessarily have to support same-sex marriage to vote against the amendment.
"We're basically carving discrimination into the constitution," Ellison said.
"The constitution ... ought to grant and confer rights, not take them away. I think anyone's attitude about homosexuality is irrelevant. At the end of the day, it's about fundamental liberty, not whether you agree with this or not."
On the other hand, Faraz Ahmad, the imam at the Muslim Community Center in Bloomington, supported the amendment
"Our stance is marriage is, and it should be, defined as a contract between ... a male and a female," Ahmad said.
"These things should be intact .... preserved and protected. That will benefit society more."
Lori Saroya, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslims are still concerned with discrimination at work, harassment at schools and other civil rights issues.
"I think the majority of Muslims would say the Qu'ran does prohibit gay marriage," Saroya said.
"I think the problem they're facing is if they go out and support the amendment, then they're aligning themselves with the same people that ... have engaged in some of these anti-Muslim activities.
"The anti-shari`ah bill is a good example," she said, referring to a measure introduced in the Republican-controlled Legislature that many Muslim leaders rejected as discriminatory.
"It seems like it's some of the same people behind that effort that are part of this effort [marriage amendment]. So I think it's a matter of, 'Do we want to align ourselves with these people?'"
The fact that Muslims are being courted on an issue like this, Green said, "is evidence Muslims have become more accepted, more mainstream.
"Part of it is they're growing, they're becoming more numerous. Part of it is there's been some time between now and 9/11, which was a very difficult time for American Muslims.
"We're kind of moving away from that."
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