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Islam in the Ozarks: The Local Muslim Vote

This week, as part of our ongoing series looking at the area's lesser known religious communities, we're getting to know the Islamic community in southwest Missouri. Today, KSMU's Jennifer Moore talks with local Muslims about their views on American politics.

To see where local Muslims stand on American politics, we need to hit the rewind button, and go back nine years, to the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

It was then that an American Muslim political action committee decided that the Muslims should vote in a bloc for the first time, and that the candidate of choice would be George W. Bush.

“Well, at that time, there were a number of issues American Muslims were concerned about,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“Candidate Bush made some reference to those issues, for instance, the use of secret evidence in trials, and other issues, whereas his challenger did not reach out to the Muslim community in any meaningful manner,” Hooper says.

And so nearly three-quarters of American Muslims voted Republican in 2000, according to a post-election survey by CAIR.

Some of them believe it may have tipped the scales in close states like Florida, which has a significant Muslim population.

But after the September 11th attacks, the Bush Administration’s policies—both at home and abroad—caused American Muslims to look unfavorably upon Republicans.

When the 2008 election rolled around, American Muslims voted an overwhelming 89 percent for Obama, indicating that they are so-called “issue” voters, and don’t necessarily side with a particular party.

"We have some hot arguments that go on between our Muslim brothers being Democrat and Republican," said Dr. Iftikhar Ali, a doctor specializing in internal medicine who attends the mosque in Joplin. He’s originally from Pakistan, but he is now an American citizen.

Ali: I voted Obama. Again, even being a physician, I hear all these things. But we’ll see what happens. But you know, we voted for the good, and things may not work out, but you know, we’ll see.

Moore: Was Obama’s stance on international relations part of the reason you voted for him?

Ali: It was a combination of everything together, looking at health care, and some other issues that he raised in America, and internationally. So I think it was a combination of everything that I was more convinced, as compared to—actually, I’m Republican.

Moore: You are Republican?

Ali: I am Republican, but I voted for him because he made more sense. And still, I have the gut feeling that maybe, you know, he’s in the right direction, even if we don’t like it. But maybe he’s right.

Ali says while he voted for Obama, there are others in the mosque who are strong Republicans, and who are passionately critical of Obama’s tax structure and health care plans.

The imam, or leader of the mosque is Dr. Lahmuddin, who has Indonesian citizenship.

He says he heard months’ worth of political debates among the Muslims who attend the Joplin mosque.

He found it strange that some Americans made a big deal that Obama’s father was raised a Muslim, despite the fact that the Democratic candidate himself repeatedly said he was a Christian.

Lahmuddin: We learned from the beginning that he was not a Muslim. People just want to speculate, and they use that as a political trick, I think, during the campaign, I believe.

Moore: Did it bother you, or was it offensive to you, that some people pointed at Obama and tried to say he’s a Muslim, using that as a bad thing?

Lahmuddin: Well, if people do something like that, we cannot change [them]. We try to convey the right message, and if people take a different way, then we don’t have the authority to change what they think.

Join us again tomorrow morning, when we talk to local Muslim women about what it’s like to wear the "hijab," or the Islamic headscarf, in southwest Missouri.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.

[Music Excerpt: "Allahu"]

Colorful prayer carpets line the prayer hall in the mosque. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) The building used to be a church; although it was built along an East-West grid, the carpets are aligned diagonally so that people may face Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, when they pray. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) This frame includes Arabic inscriptions of what Muslims believe to be the 99 names of God.  (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) Gold thread sewn onto black velvet displays verses from the Qur'an, the sacred book in Islam. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) The building was formerly a church; it has a stage which is not used today.  (Photo credit:  Jennifer Moore)