(RNS) Salim Jaffer moved to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. His family, along with the rest of the Indian community, had been expelled from Uganda in 1972 under the violent dictator Idi Amin and sought a respite in America.
But he said he’s never felt in danger until this year.
“It’s as if someone is trying to take away my civil rights,” said Jaffer, a gastroenterologist living in Lansing, Michigan. “Donald Trump thinks we should stop immigration of Muslims coming into this country. Marco Rubio, he wants to close down mosques. Ted Cruz, he wants to see if ‘sand glows’ in Syria.”
That’s why Jaffer participated in his first-ever presidential primary last week (March 8), casting his vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. And it’s the reason he, a doctor who only superficially followed politics for most of his life, has just submitted paperwork to register a new nonprofit organization aimed at getting Midwestern Muslims to vote in November.
“From a Muslim standpoint, we’ve got to make sure we get somebody who is sympathetic to our cause and understands the sociology, the theology, the anthropology, and the history of Islam,” he said.
With Trump leading the Republican race, Muslim groups are launching voter registration drives in a push to ensure that the Islamophobic rhetoric of the election campaign is rejected at the polls.
“Anti-Muslim rhetoric is motivating Muslim Americans across the country to engage in the political process like never before,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress. “This is true in Minnesota, as well as in swing states like Virginia and Florida where Muslim Americans will play a critical role on Election Day.”
Almost three-quarters of Muslim voters plan to vote in state primaries this year, according to data from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“If you as a political candidate chose to spew hatred, bigotry, and to vilify Muslim Americans, you do so at your own political risk,” Altaf Husain, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, said at a press conference in December. “We will use every democratic means and political strategy to ensure your candidacy never succeeds.”