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Director’s Desk: The Obligation to Vote

by Jacob Bender, Executive Director

The Battle for the Ballot

The right of all American citizens to vote for president and other elected officials has taken us as a nation over 200 years after the founding of the United States to achieve.

The story of American democracy is the story of the expansion of the right to vote to an ever greater part of the adult population. The wealthy white men who wrote the United States Constitution in Philadelphia during the sweltering summer of 1787 did not believe in universal suffrage: working class men and all women were excluded, while African slaves counted as only 3/5 of white people for census purposes. Voting was considered the responsibility, the obligation, and the privilege of men like themselves: white men with property. When Pennsylvania likewise denied free Blacks the right to vote in the late 1830s, a state legislator explained that, “The people of this state are for continuing this commonwealth, what it has always been, a political community of and for white persons.”

Gradually, however, and under the influence of the new immigrant masses flooding into the country to work in the mushrooming industrial factories of America, the right to vote was demanded and won by millions of new Americans. By 1840 more than 90 percent of adult white men possessed the right to vote.

At the conclusion of the American Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment became law, guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote without recourse to their “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It would take another 100-plus years of organizing, protesting, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for that promise to be fulfilled. And American women were finally granted the right to vote, after years of campaigning, only with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

This history begs us not take the act of voting, for which many people suffered greatly to achieve, for granted. Even today, there are several states that have attempted to limit access of African-Americans and Latinos to the voting booth. (For more information on voter suppression, see The American Prospect and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.) The political rights described in the American Constitution and Bill of Rights are not guarantees; they are promises that have only been redeemed through the courage and sacrifices of men and women such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fanny Lou Hammer, Medgar Evers, and John Lewis. As the old Black spiritual, resurrected during the Civil Rights Movement, says: “Freedom is a Constant Struggle.”

A Means, Not an End

In spite of the above, however, there is a strong case to be made that in Islam, voting is not an end in itself, but only a means towards an end: the establishment of a just social order. Voting is one tool that enables those lucky enough to live in democratic societies (however flawed) a peaceful mechanism to utilize in the pursuit of justice, for the pursuit of justice is at the center of Islamic ethics:

“We sent aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in Justice.” [Quran 57:25].

Indeed, justice is so crucial in Islam, that the Quran places it above the comfort of our familial relations:

“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin…” [Quran 4:135]

What impedes the quest for justice, however, is hatred, even hatred of those who oppress us. Centuries before Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. developed their theory of non-violent civil disobedience as a tool in the establishment of a just society (when the ballot box was not within reach), the Quran includes these words: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice.” [Quran 5:8]

A just society is a society that has found a non-violent mechanism to settle disputes. As noted above, voting in a democratic election is one such mechanism; the Islamic concept of shura (consultation) is another (see IslamReligion.com for more on this subject). And in extreme situations of injustice, civil disobedience is another.

From my reading and study of the above issues, I reach three conclusions:

  1. Contrary to Islamophobic mythology, Islam is eminently compatible with democracy.
  2. Consequently, authoritarian regimes, such as those governing many Muslim-majority countries, are profoundly anti-Islamic.
  3. All those who follow in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are obligated to vote (and work towards the establishment of a just society), for that is the mandate of the Torah: “Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.” (Torah, Deuteronomy 16:20)

Further reading:

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Phonebanking Request/Recruitment

CAIR-Philadelphia partner EMERGE USA (emerge-usa.org) is a grassroots civic engagement organization focusing on organizing and mobilizing American Muslim voters, developing accurate data on American Muslim voters, and developing future American Muslim political leaders.

We are on the verge of a historic presidential election. It is critical now more than ever for American Muslims to get involved and be heard. This election American Muslims have the opportunity to make a significant difference on the outcome of this election, particularly in a critical “swing state” like Pennsylvania. As such, we are recruiting volunteers from the greater Philadelphia region to assist in “Phonebanking” to help maximize our state’s turnout.

Phonebanking involves contacting fellow American Muslim voters on an assigned list to confirm that they are registered to vote, update their voter registration information, and provide instructions on when and where to vote on election day. All that is required is your time and a laptop.

If you want more information and / or are interested in joining this effort, please contact: Sarah Hoda, EMERGE – DelMont Office coordinator, at shoda@emerge-usa.org

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Eid al-Adha Greetings from CAIR-Philadelphia

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Action Alert: The Tears of a Nation – What You Can Do

As we celebrate Labor Day and the end of the summer holiday season, we should also remember the suffering of the people of Syria, as we read in the Qur’an (9:71):

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, and wise.”

According to the United Nations, the destruction of Syria is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and the largest since WWII. No matter how we might wish we could turn away from the world’s tragedies and pretend for just a weekend that they do not exist, Islam gently draws us back into an indelible bond with our fellow human beings.

“And We made them leaders, guiding them by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practice regular charity; and they constantly served Us.” (21:73)

The following numbers should shock us into action:






CAIR transparently admits to policy disagreements within its ranks and across the Muslim community: while some favor a “No-Fly Zone” over Syria, others worry about an entrenched American presence in the country, remembering the disaster of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Some see the Assad Regime as the prime source of evil, while others argue that that dubious distinction has now passed to ISIS. Still others worry about the self-serving intervention of Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran, while others remember the oppression of the Shia by Saddam Hussain.

In spite of this range of opinion, CAIR and the leadership of the American Muslim community are clear in their commitment to help the Syrian people in their most desperate hours by advocating for an increase in the number of Syrian refugees permitted to resettle in the U.S. A Press Release from CAIR National reads in part, “We urge our government to open its arms, and open its mind, and strengthen the tradition of America being a generous and open society to all those who need it.”


A Statement of American Relief Coalition for Syria:

Many of us have been asking how we can help Syrian children like 5 year old Omran Daqneesh.

Well now you can.  Here’s one very easy, important way: Ask your member of Congress to cosponsor the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which will place sanctions on those who perpetrate human rights violations in Syria.

The bill has passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has 20 cosponsors from both parties. However, it needs at least 100 cosponsors to get a vote in the House and Senate.

A group of activists have made a short website to explain the details of the Caesar Bill with an action alert. They have set up the hashtag #StandWithCaesarBill for use on social media. Please consider posting about it and getting your friends and family to take action.

Only with your support can we halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold those who perpetrate Syrian human rights abuses accountable for their crimes.

Visit rescuesyrians.com and email your representative with ONE click. Afterwards, share the link on Facebook and Twitter!

Thank you for your time and support.


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9/11+15: CAIR’s Memorial Program for 15th Commemoration of Sept. 11, 2001

On a cloudless late summer day in September of 2001, the fate of the Muslim American community was unalterably changed when hijacked airlines slammed into the two World Trade Center Towers in New York. The attacks that morning led directly to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the draconian “War on Terror,” the rise of ISIS, and the eruption of Islamophobia across America.

CAIR believes that the Muslim community should not allow this narrative to be told only by the voices of the Islamophobic network. Consequently, CAIR-Philadelphia, together with the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs, invites you to attend a very special 9/11 memorial program of remembrance and reconciliation.

Professor Muqtedar Khan, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware; and President of Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs, will speak on “A Muslim Perspective on 9/11”.

Prof. Khan’s presentation will be followed by a screening of In Our Son’s Name, an award-winning documentary by Gayla Jamison. The powerful film tells the moving story of a New York couple, Phyllis and Orlando Rodríguez, whose son dies along with thousands of others at the WTC on 9/11, and who then find the power to transform their grief into a call for reconciliation, justice, and peace when they help create the organization Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

This is a program you do not want to miss.

For further information, go to http://pa.cair.com/9-11-plus-15/ or contact CAIR at 267.515.6711, jbender@cair.com.

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