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Ramadan Adds a Political Dimension

Times Staff Writer

Muslims in California and across the nation will add something new to the fasting, praying and acts of charity that are traditional during Ramadan, Islam’s monthlong time of spiritual renewal that begins today: a get-out-the-vote campaign.

In a rare confluence, the U.S. presidential election falls within the holy month of Ramadan. That timing, coupled with anger among some American Muslims over the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorist measures by the government, has Islamic leaders organizing voter registration drives, giving politically inspired talks and constructing voter databases, all geared to get Muslims to the polls.

“People are feeling extremely resentful and betrayed,” said Omar Zaki, governmental relations director for the Southern California chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations. “My job was to harness that energy and turn it into something productive.”

Ramadan marks the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad. During this time, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, say additional daily prayers and give to charity. Fasting ends with Eid al-Fitr, or Feast of the Fast-Breaking.

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The organizing effort during Ramadan marks another step in the political maturation of the American Muslim community.

During the 2000 presidential race, Muslims were still debating whether it was religiously appropriate for them to participate in American politics because the U.S. was not governed by Islamic law.

Muslim scholars dispelled that notion, equating the faith’s call for social justice as an obligation to vote.

Now, voter registration booths are set up outside mosques, like the one that will be manned today at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove.

A database of more than 500,000 Muslim voters has been developed for the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Florida and will be used to help elect Sen. John Kerry, said Muki Hossain, president of the Muslim American Political Action Committee. And on Monday, a coalition of 10 Muslim organizations is expected to make its presidential endorsement.

Muslim leaders said Ramadan will give them an added advantage this election year because it will allow them to educate even religiously casual Muslims drawn to the mosques for the major holiday.

“We are more motivated to vote than any other group in this country because we have been so affected by [President] Bush’s policies,” Hossain said. The evening get-togethers during Ramadan “are a perfect time to talk to them about the urgency to do the right thing and vote.”

But even getting Muslims to register to vote has been a chore because of the community suspicion of government officials in the wake of 9/11.

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“Some people are fearful to fill out voter affidavits; the government could use that information against them,” Zaki said.

Estimates of Muslim voters in the United States range between 1 million and 3.5 million. Kerry’s campaign would be helped by a large Muslim turnout, according to a survey conducted in September by Zogby International and Georgetown University. It showed 76% support for Kerry in the American Muslim community.

In 2000, several key Muslim organizations endorsed Bush, praising, among other things, his conservative stances on such social issues as abortion and gay marriage.

But support for the president began disappearing shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as many Muslims felt unfairly targeted by Bush’s anti-terrorist measures and grew concerned about wars fought in two Muslim-dominated countries.

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