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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Helping with national voter registration drive

Inland Muslims sign on to nationwide voter registration push
The Press-Enterprise

Hanna Shafik has been a U.S. citizen for 13 years. The Egyptian-born woman always meant to register to vote but didn't do so until Wednesday, when she spotted a voter-registration table at the Ontario Convention Center after leaving prayers for Eid ul-Fitr, which celebrates the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"People need to know that we have rights too, that they can't ignore us," Shafik, 38, said after filling out a registration form.

Voter-registration tables were set up across the country outside Eid prayers as part of a Council on American-Islamic Relations effort to increase Muslim voter turnout.

At the table in Ontario on Wednesday, a CAIR poster had a list of concerns for many Muslims, such as: "Why do they link Islam with Fascism?" "How can I protect the rights of immigrants?" and "Why do they harass us at the airport?"

"If you don't vote, don't complain," the poster concludes.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR's southern California office, said he believes Muslims are upset at being used as political punching bags in campaigns, especially by Republicans.

"Muslims are saying enough is enough," he said. "We demand to not be treated as second-class citizens anymore. They're going to respond to the rhetoric with their votes. They understand that's how it works in this country."

At Ayloush's mosque, the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco, voter-registration tables have been set up outside Friday prayer services for the past several weeks.

In Ontario on Wednesday morning, Roya Eshanzada, of Fontana, was filling out a registration form because she had recently moved. Eshanzada said most issues that Muslims care about are the same ones that any voter considers, such as the economy and the Iraq war.

Eshanzada said she is planning to vote for Sen. Barack Obama for president, despite concerns by some Muslims that he has not stood up forcefully enough to defend Islam amid false rumors that he is a Muslim. "I can't blame him" for not more strongly and frequently defending Muslims, she said. "I think he's afraid to cross that line because he'd be attacked. Muslims are seen so negatively in the media."

Obama is a Christian but his stepfather and paternal grandfather were Muslims, and he spent part of his childhood in the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia.

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 13 percent of voters believe that Obama is a Muslim, and that those who believed the rumors were less likely to vote for the Illinois Democrat. A 2007 Pew poll revealed that 45 percent of Americans were less likely to vote for a Muslim presidential candidate.

Shamel Shafik, the husband of Hanna Shafik, blames some supporters of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain for spreading the rumors and, in his opinion, defaming Islam. He also blames Obama for not talking about his Muslim ancestors and more strongly speaking out against anti-Muslim prejudice.

"Neither has reached out to Muslims," the Claremont resident said.

Shafik, 49, has not decided who to vote for, but he said that if either candidate were to visit a mosque or a Muslim event, that would swing his vote. It would show that the candidate recognizes Muslims as an important part of U.S. society, he said.

"As citizens, we are loyal to this country," Shafik said. "We have our kids in the schools, we have our businesses, we are part of the community here. We are not visitors here. This is our land, and this is the future for our kids. We need to express our voices."

Reach David Olson at 951-368-9462 or dolson@PE.com

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