CAIRO – Reclaiming their political rights, an increasing number of American Muslims is running for local elections, creating a new generation of future leaders within the Chicago area Muslim community.
"I think (Muslims) are awakening because we made this our home, so we need to get involved," Nazneen Hashmi, who is running for one of three Hanover Township trustee seats, told the Daily Herald.
Engaging in the political live as early as in the 1980s, Hashmi, a single mother with two children in college, decided it was time to give back to her community of Streamwood.
An information technology professional, Hashmi was appointed to the village's Community Relations Commission where she worked to promote diversity and organized a forum on marriages around the world.
Hashmi is among several Muslim candidates running for elected office in the suburbs this spring who have caught the eye of the group Project Mobilize.
The project aims at fostering a greater civic involvement and helps the political campaigns of first-time candidates through training, networking, fundraising and providing resources to reach target demographic.
"We wanted to be the vehicle to help those individuals gain leadership skills," group co-founder Reema Ahmad said.
"Project M is a tool that they can wield. We do not have any political agenda beyond helping communities that are politically marginalized have a voice."
Working previously with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, Ahmad began to recognize the potential for growing future leaders within the Chicago area Muslim community.
"It was time for the Muslim community to kind of take the next step and take ownership of the political process and run ourselves for political office," she said.
"That was the motivation for starting Project Mobilize, which was founded in May 2010. Our goal was to build our leadership from the bottom up. We knew that we had community leaders who were more than capable of serving in these various capacities, municipal, county, school board levels."
Being relatively new to the political process, Hashmi welcomes the group's support.
"There are some newcomers who don't know much about politics, so they need a little bit of training and coaching on how to go about it, and Project M has done that pretty well," she said.
Mobilizing American Muslims during congress elections, Project M officials proved success after they managed to defeat the re-election bid of US Rep. Joe Walsh in the 8th Congressional District after he made anti-Muslim comments.
"(Asian-American and Muslim) communities in the Northwest and Western suburbs are becoming more politically involved increasingly in a strategic and intentional way," Ahmad said.
"We sent over 9,000 mailers to Muslim American voters in the 8th Congressional District, basically highlighting some of the hateful and reprehensible stances that he holds."
The group plans to support Muslim candidates running in suburban races in the April elections.
The candidates include Junaid Afeef, who is running for the Hoffman Estates Park District board; Mohammed Farooq Patel and Zuhair Nubani, both of whom are vying for seats on the Schaumburg Township board.
Other candidates also include Abdul Javid, a candidate for the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school board; former York Township Trustee Moon Khan, who is a mayoral hopeful in Lombard; and Muzammil Saeed, who is running for Lombard village trustee.
"It gives friends and neighbors, and the public an opportunity to see American Muslims in the community in a light that they wouldn't otherwise be seen in from the media," Afeef, a former executive director for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago said.
Running unsuccessfully in 2007 for the Hoffman Estates village board, Afeef said the experience gave him the opportunity to build bridges with the non-Muslim community.
"Those relationships carry over, win or lose, beyond the election," said the 43-year-old father of four.
"This is a very exciting time. We are, as a community, finally picking up where we left off in 2000. After 9/11, we got hit with a lot of stuff that sidelined us or redirected our focus to other things.
“We are finally reclaiming our right to become more civically engaged and add our voices in the public square.”