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Muslim Community Takes A Page From African-American Churches To Get Out The Vote


This campaign season has found Muslim-Americans caught in a harsh spotlight, but there's been a debate in many Muslim communities about whether to get involved in politics at all. In Tennessee, several mosques are borrowing an idea from African-American churches to try to encourage their worshippers to vote. Chas Sisk with member station WPLN in Nashville reports.

CHAS SISK, BYLINE: Friday afternoon prayers have just ended, and worshipers are leaving the Islamic Center of Nashville. Idling at the exit is a long white school bus. It's waiting to take them to an early voting place ahead of next week's statewide primaries. Tamanna Qureshi helped organize this bus ride. She's a board member of the mosque and a volunteer with the League of Women Voters. She says that not so long ago, bussing Muslims to the polls would've been unfathomable.

TAMANNA QURESHI: There was this feeling of are we meddling in something that's not our business? And, you know, of course, my response is it's absolutely your business.

SISK: For years, African-American churches have organized souls to the polls campaigns, often riding together to vote in their Sunday best. Mosques, however, have generally shunned politics. As recently as the late 1990s, scholars were divided on the ethics of voting. For years, it was common for many Muslim-Americans to not exercise their voting rights. But this year, three of Nashville's biggest mosques are bussing worshipers to the polls. The organizers say this is more about demonstrating the importance of voting than providing transportation.

So why did you decide to take part in this today?

SAHAR FAKHRUDDIN: Well, first of all, our aunt asked us to. But then also because I think it's important to show, like, that we're coming in as a group.

SISK: That's Sahar Fakhruddin, a 20-year-old college student. She's voted before, but beside her is her 18-year-old cousin, Maryam Fakhruddin, a first-time voter.

MARYAM FAKHRUDDIN: I'm excited. It's - I think it's really important for - just as a female American-Muslim citizen to be part of this election.

SISK: The Council on American-Islamic Relations says three-quarters of Muslims plan to vote in 2016. That's up from previous years. The organization says the chief reason is anti-Muslim rhetoric from national candidates like Donald Trump, but also at the state and local levels. In Tennessee, Muslims have faced state legislation aimed at their community on a regular basis. Those include bills banning Sharia law and attacking perceived pro-Muslim bias in school textbooks. The bus ride is nonpartisan. In fact, one voter, Alana Raybon, says she's voting in the Republican primary.

ALANA RAYBON: It's my duty to stand up against injustice and wrong, and speaking out against the horrible actions of ISIS, but also making sure to take a stand and not allowing politicians who are trying to marginalize us be in office.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go all the way to the end, computer F.

RAYBON: OK, thank you.

SISK: At the polls, things go smoothly. Raybon brings along her three young children as she goes to the voting booth.

RAYBON: Come on, Noah. Noah, come on.

SISK: Afterward, they pose outside the polls for a group picture. Then it's back on the bus for the return trip. Organizers plan to bring the bus out again for the general election this fall. For NPR News, I'm Chas Sisk in Nashville.

SIMON: And tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY, Rachel Martin talks with retired Marine Corps General John Allen about why he's supporting Hillary Clinton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chas joined WPLN in 2015 after eight years with The Tennessean, including more than five years as the newspaper's statehouse reporter.Chas has also covered communities, politics and business in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Chas grew up in South Carolina and attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied economics and journalism. Outside of work, he's a dedicated distance runner, having completed a dozen marathons

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