March 19, 2006
Muslims vote with religions in mind
By Kate Howell
Religion may have affected the decisions of many young Muslim voters, but not as strongly as foreign policy. "The main issue Muslims care about is foreign policy because it affects them and their families overseas," Ameer Zufari, vice president of UCF's Muslim Student Association, said.
Abdullah Sheikh, a Muslim student and member of MSA, agreed. "The block vote was much different this time than last time because last election the Muslim vote was geared toward social issues and this time it was international affairs," Sheikh explained. He continued, "There isn't a party that clearly identifies with Muslim needs."
Zufari and Sheikh's statements can be supported by facts. A Project MAPS/Zogby International poll released last month found that while 42 percent of the Muslim vote supported Bush in 2000, largely because his emphasis on family values fit nicely with their conservative leanings, in the 2004 election 72 percent of Muslims supported Kerry, often citing opposition to Bush's handling of Iraq.
Another poll, conducted post-debate by the Washington-based Coalition on American-Islamic Relations, showed that 80 percent of likely Muslim voters planned on supporting Kerry.
It also pointed out that while 33 percent felt the Democrats most completely reflected their values, 20 percent aligned themselves with the Green Party and 13 percent with the Republican Party. A full quarter of the respondents were "not sure which party reflected their views." ….
Because of the inferred persecution, a lack of party representation is a feeling many UCF Muslims agree with. "Honestly, I don't think there is a party that really represents us," Zufari said. "I think a lot of Muslims would like to see a conservative party that doesn't go abroad."
He continued, "A lot of Muslims voted for Kerry because they were against the war in Iraq, but they also have some conservative values that coincide with conservative Christianity because Islam and Christianity preach the same kinds of values."
Chris Cusano, a Muslim and member of MSA, agreed with Zufari that American Muslims can not turn to either party for a strong representation of their views. Cusano even went so far as to base his vote on that fact. "I based my vote on trying to unite the Muslims in the United States as being a group that needs to have their views heard," Cusano said.
Despite these feelings, UCF's Muslim students feel that their demographic turned out to vote in good numbers. "All of us became activists," Manuel Rodriguez-Gebhard, a Muslim and an MSA member said. "We all wanted to tell each other, we wanted to express our views and we all did take part in voting."
Still, like all demographics, not everyone voted. While Sheikh feels that turnout among young Muslims was high, he personally did not go to the polls. "I did not vote because neither candidate identified with what I believe in," Sheikh explained.
Nida Merchant, a Muslim and MSA member, believes that "religion and politics go hand in hand," and thinks that religion should play an even stronger role in politics. She says that some people keep religion and politics in "separate spheres [where] religion only deals with your relationship with God and politics deals with everything else."
Still, Merchant felt uncomfortable with how religion was used in this presidential election. "Certain candidates made themselves appear to be more religious to get votes," Merchant said. She continued to state that some candidates "made their decisions to have some sort of religious value to get votes from certain religious parties."
Rodriguez-Gebhard agreed that religion plays a heavy role in politics. "The last four years is a good example," he said. "We have a strong political leader with strong Christian viewpoints. He does rule this country and he runs it very Christian-like." Rodriguez-Gebhard shared Merchant's mistrust in politicians they believe use religion to get votes. "Kerry was all gung-ho Muslim for a while," he explained. "I felt it was a little fake."
Sheikh pointed to the Castor-Martinez Florida State Senate race and what he believes was a manipulation by both candidates of the incident involving a University of South Florida professor and his alleged terrorist activities. The USF professor, Sami Al-Arian, was suspected of having terrorist ties during Betty Castor's tenure as president of USF.
Al-Arian, a tenured professor who was fired, has been frequently discussed during the campaign. Mel Martinez believed Al-Arian should have been fired immediately after he was accused of terrorist connections, implying Castor is soft on terrorism. Instead, Al-Arian's pink slip didn't come until he was indicted on federal charges.
Castor said in an early TV ad for the campaign that she dealt with former USF professor Sami Al-Arian appropriately, and her actions served as qualification for dealing with terrorism firsthand. "They both automatically portrayed him as a terrorist and that they had somehow eliminated a terrorist threat," said Sheikh, who then pointed out the lack of any real information on the issue. "I still don't know his background," Sheikh said.