A tight network of politically active Islamist organizations have employed sophisticated electioneering techniques to multiply their political power and play a major role in the outcome of U.S. elections. Aligned with the far left, these so-called Muslim civic action groups seek to create a consolidated Muslim voter bloc that can swing elections and promote candidates who will back their radical agenda.
With significant voter turnout in crucial swing states, Muslim Americans have played an out-sized role in recent elections. The Muslim vote may have decided the winner of key congressional and statewide races during the 2022 midterm elections and even helped secure Democratic Party control of the Senate.
"Muslims are a powerhouse," according to Nada Al-Hanooti, the leader of a prominent Islamist lobby that conducts voter outreach in Michigan. Reflecting on the midterms, Al-Hanooti predicted that both Democrats and Republicans will soon be forced to recognize that "the Muslim community is a force to be reckoned with."
Islamists, or practicing Muslims who believe their religion should vigorously apply to many social and political aspects of public life, have commandeered the Muslim vote and are using the political influence it affords to advance their own ends.
These groups have orchestrated massive "Get Out the Vote" campaigns, targeting Muslim households with millions of phone calls, emails, and text messages, and pressuring their co-religionists to show up at local mosques that are repurposed as polling places. They hold political grooming workshops and fundraisers for Muslim candidates, and they publish Congressional scorecards urging Muslims to elect pro-Islamist candidates.
A Million Muslim Votes
The Islamic organizations behind this monumental undertaking include an odd mixture of Islamist, progressive, and anti-Israel activist groups. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), responsible for a "Muslims.Vote" campaign, is perhaps the most well-known among them.
Founded in 1994, CAIR grew out of the Islamic Association of Palestine, a defunct organization that the U.S. government has identified as a "propaganda apparatus" for Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist entity. CAIR was later listed as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a landmark terror finance trial involving Hamas, and seven senior CAIR officials have faced serious criminal convictions in terrorism-related cases.
Despite this history, CAIR enjoyed privileged access to the Obama administration and today markets itself as "America's largest Muslim civil liberties organization." It is committed to various progressive causes that happen to align with Islamist interests.
Another Islamist political advocacy group, Emgage USA, organizes a "Million Muslim Votes" campaign during important election cycles. It has supplanted CAIR as the White House's favorite liaison to the Muslim American community. When then-presidential candidate Joe Biden addressed Muslim voters in 2020, he did so through a virtual Emgage panel that featured radical panelists and entreated viewers to exercise their "brown power."
Emgage requires the candidates it supports to take an oath affirming the right to boycott Israel – part of a global campaign widely considered to be anti-Semitic. Last year, Senate Republicans blocked Biden's highest-ranking Muslim nominee, Dilawar Syed, from a top job at the Small Business Administration, pointing to his seat on Emgage Action's board of directors. A Senate letter accused the nonprofit of "overtly anti-Israel positions" and comments that reflect a "deep-seated prejudice that is of serious concern to the small business community."
A third group, MPower Change, is a Muslim-led "digital advocacy organization" that sponsors a "#MyMuslimVote" registration drive. It is steeped in controversial racial politics and anti-police activism. MPower Change's founder, Linda Sarsour, was kicked off the board of the National Women's March following allegations of anti-Semitism.
Muslim Election Wave
The payoff from these coordinated campaigns is clear: a record-breaking 89 Muslim Americans – including more than a few apparent Islamists – were elected or re-elected in 2022 to offices ranging from school boards and state legislatures to U.S. Congress.
Many of these candidates received large sums of money from Muslims living far outside their states or districts, a tell-tale sign that Islamist advocacy groups bankrolled their elections. In several prominent races, these donors included domestic extremists, designated terrorists, and accused terrorism financiers.
Muad Hrezi, a Libyan American congressional candidate who ran in Connecticut's First District, received 70 percent of his total campaign donations in 2021 from outside his state, including from Libyan Muslim Brotherhood members and individuals designated as terrorists by a secular Libyan political party.
Just over a quarter of the $1 million that community activist Rana Abdelhamind raised in New York's 12th Congressional District race came from New York City donors. Abdelhamid was eventually forced to resign her campaign due to redistricting, but not before she took moneyfrom extremists like Emadeddin Muntasser, who was convicted in 2008 of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government in a terror finance case.
During a Virginia lieutenant governor debate in 2021, a local radio host dared to ask candidate Sam Rasoul about excessive outside donations, which the Washington Post attributed to "out-of-state donors with ties to Muslim advocacy groups." CAIR claimed that Rasoul was "singled out because of his faith," and other progressive Muslim groups voiced outrage over the "anti-Muslim question," prompting the moderator to apologize in shame.
CAIR and Emgage each control subordinate PACs that pay small campaign expenses for a handful of Islamist candidates. However, a much more significant source of campaign cash comes directly from senior officials from these groups who are often generous political donors. For example, nearly every member of CAIR's national board of directors contributed personal monies to Faisal Gill's bid for Los Angeles city attorney, despite his troubling links to Al Qaeda.
In fact, more than a few Muslim midterm winners worked or volunteered for Islamist organizations before moving on to politics. In Ohio, State Rep.-elect Munira Abdullahi has not yet quit her day job with the Muslim American Society, which the United Arab Emirates designated as a terrorist organization in 2014, thanks to its status as the American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Re-elected in Iowa, State Rep. Ako Abdul Samad (D) has served since 2015 as chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, an Islamic civic organization so virulently anti-Semitic that Hillary Clinton was obliged to return a $50,000 AMA donation meant to fund her 2000 Senate bid. Additionally, State Reps. Mauree Turner (D-OK) and Ruwa Romman (D-GA) are CAIR board members, and at least a couple candidates are alumni of Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus club which uses violence and intimidation to harass Jewish students and further an anti-Israel agenda.
Besides electing Muslim politicians, Islamists have played kingmaker in several tight races involving non-Muslim candidates. As part of its Million Muslim Votes campaign in 2020, Emgage and local Islamist groups sent 3.6 million text messages, placed 1.8 million phone calls, and knocked on 20,000 doors to implore Muslim Americans to register and to vote.
Newsweek called this effort, "More sophisticated than a simple get-out-the-vote public awareness campaign" for its use of a complex algorithm that identifies "Muslim-sounding names" and "ethnicity models" from purchased voter data. The entire campaign cost $1 million.
In a single weekend prior to the midterms, CAIR sponsored a robocall targeting 200,000 landlines belonging to Muslim households, and 600,000 personal cell phones belonging to registered Muslim voters. Emgage's Million Muslim Votes 2.0 completed over 1 million voter contacts. Local civic groups like the Georgia Muslim Voter Project canvassed Muslim neighborhoods, while Latino & Muslim Unity (LMU) helped sign up 500 Muslims in Southern California for early voting.
The final result? Registered Muslim voters rose from 60 percent of the total adult Muslim population in 2016, to 82 percent in 2022. During the 2020 presidential race, which broke records for voter turnout in the 21st century, 71 percent of eligible Muslim voters cast a ballot, up from 59 percent in 2016 and 4 points higher than the national average.
The Swing Vote
In 2020, before Democrat Jon Ossof won a special election for a Georgia Senate seat by just 55,000 votes, Muslim lawmakers from around the country converged on the southern state, joining CAIR and the Georgia Muslim Voter Project in mobilizing more than 71,000 registered Muslim voters. According to CAIR polling (which should always be viewed with extreme skepticism), nearly 65,000 of these voters picked Ossof and Warnock.
If the Muslim vote did not swing the election, it certainly helped to tip the race in Ossof's favor, while functionally securing a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Islamists claimed victory. "Georgia Muslim voter turnout and preference were a deciding factor in electing Rev. [Raphael] Warnock and Ossoff, tipping the balance of power to Democrats in the U.S. Senate," CAIR-Georgia Director Abdullah Jaber claimed in 2021.
Islamists continued targeting Georgia Muslims voters during the 2022 general election, when Sen. Warnock defeated his opponent by just 38,000 votes, triggering a runoff election that Warnock ultimately won. By then, registered Muslims in Georgia grew to as many as 80,000 estimated voters, likely thanks to Islamist civic actions groups. Once again, a Georgia Senate race determined party control of the Senate.
"While Americans slept, Islamic organizations morphed and crept deeper into the infrastructure of the Left, capturing its election machines and its foundations," wrote Daniel Greenfield, an investigative journalist who follows the Islamist-Leftist alliance. "Georgia is just one of the results," he added.
In states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania, where some midterm congressional races were separated by a few thousand votes, the impact of Muslim voter outreach was potentially decisive. For example, in Pennsylvania's 7th District, Rep. Susan Wild (D) beat her challenger by close to 5,000 votes, which happened to coincide with the number of Muslims residing in her district.
Furthermore, the recently redrawn 6th Congressional District in Illinois, home to many of the state's estimated 266,000 registered Muslim voters, was decided by roughly 20,000 votes in favor of Democratic Rep. Sean Casten.
Legally, a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit like Emgage USA may not endorse or fund candidates, and its voter outreach is limited to general education about registering, polling locations, and early voting. However, Emgage operates a parallel 501(c)4, Emgage Action, that is less limited regarding the types of partisan endorsements and lobbyingit is permitted to conduct.
So, while Emgage USA implored hundreds of thousands of potential voters to visit the polls in a given state, it supplemented these activities through Emgage Action, which makes a similar number of robocalls asking Muslims to vote for specific candidates.
These calls were ramped up heading into the 2022 midterms. Case in point: Emgage Action hit the phones on behalf of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American to serve in Congress and a reliable ally to Islamist groups. He won by about 21,000 votes in a state with close to 150,000 Muslim residents.
A Muslim Bloc
On the surface, many of these activities appear to represent positive steps from a religious minority that is merely seeking to engage with the political process. However, Islamist goals are not limited to increasing Muslim representation and giving Muslim voters a stake in U.S. elections.
Despite claims of non-partisanship, Islamists view their fellow Muslims as a voting bloc that, properly harnessed, will elect progressive candidates who are more likely to support Islamist priorities. In 2012, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, an Islamist-aligned political research institute, found that two-thirds of Muslim Americans "have a strong desire for political unity and feel that they should vote as a bloc for a presidential candidate."
"The intention of this campaign is really to improve the priority of Muslim voters and build our propensity (to vote) and build our voter bloc," Aysha Ahmed, national deputy organizing director of Emgage, said during the lead up to the midterms.
Rida Hamida, who founded LMU and helped register 40,000 voters since 2017, agreed that Muslims should concentrate their voting power. She told Religion News Service that "we are a voting bloc, not just as a faith but as different ethnicities and different races."
Some civic action groups have gone so far as to suggest that voting with the Muslim majority is a religious duty. In 2014, a group calling itself the D.C. Muslim Caucus issued a religious edict ahead of elections: "According to Islamic tenets," the group wrote, "Muslims participating in democratic elections are obligated to vote as a bloc based upon a consensus of the Muslim community."
Islamist polling tends to reflect this view that Muslim Americans overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, even as more methodologically-sound surveys reach a slightly different conclusion. While an Associated Press exit poll found that 35 percent of Muslim voters picked Donald Trump in 2020, CAIR's own polling determined that a meager 17 percent of Muslims voted for the Republican incumbent.
"To most Americans and really most people of conscience, it would sound absurd for anyone who identifies with the Muslim faith to vote for Trump, given what he has done and said over the last four years and really throughout his history," Emgage CEO Wa'el Alzayat told NPR following the presidential election.
Although Alzayet gave lip service to the idea that "the Muslim community is not a monolith," he warned that "polling around Muslims is sparse," and "the numbers may be off," according to NPR.
However, this rightward shift is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Following the 2022 midterms, a Wall Street Journal exit poll found that 28 percent of Muslims voted Republican, up 11 points from 2018.
Still, the same poll found that 70 percent of Muslims voted for Democratic Party candidates, and the Islamist activists who operate voter engagement campaigns do not appear ready to acknowledge a growing conservative base among Muslim Americans.
The Right Type of Muslim
This year, when voters had the opportunity to elect the first Muslim senator in U.S. history, the supposedly nonpartisan civic organizations that work to increase Muslim political representation took a hard pass. Dr. Mehmet Oz, the four-time Emmy-winning talk show host, wasn't the right type of Muslim for groups like CAIR and Emgage to support.
"It is complicated because most Muslims are registered Democrats," Alzayat told the Associated Press. "While being a Muslim is nice and it's good, it is not sufficient and in some cases it doesn't matter what your faith is if you are not on the right side of the issues."
Just what is the "right side of issues" for Islamist political action groups? Islamists claim that Muslim voters care about the same issues as other Americans. They want a strong economy, affordable healthcare, quality schools, and safe neighborhoods.
Mohammed Missouri, the leader of Jetpac, which prepares Muslim candidates for higher office, pushed back against the notion that Muslim Americans only care about foreign policy issues. "It's part of the trope that we're this other, we're not American," he told Time magazine, adding that Muslims "care deeply about specific issues" within their community but also "from the perspective of justice for all people."
Yet, regardless of the needs of Muslim American voters, Islamists push a platform that is narrowly focused on promoting distinctly Islamist causes. This radical, fringe agenda bears little resemblance to the reforms sought by everyday Americans.
Islamist First Agenda
Prior to the midterms, CAIR released a "Congressional Scorecard" that evaluated members of Congress based on a variety of positions that ranged from supporting executive appointments to sponsoring or voting for specific legislation.
CAIR's scorecard provides a rare and earnest view of the Islamist group's agenda — the end goal sought from its investments in voter engagement and candidate grooming programs. The handful of bills and other legislative actions by which CAIR evaluates Congress are overwhelmingly concerned with undoing counter-terrorism efforts, opening U.S. borders to unchecked immigration from Muslim-majority countries, punishing criticism of Islamism, and attacking America's staunchest allies in the War on Terror.
CAIR rated legislators favorably who supported bills limiting certain defense sales to Israel and accusing India of "human rights violations" against religious minorities. Likewise, Congress members were rewarded for endorsing legislation requiring congressional approval for the use of military force in Iraq, a bill that could stymie the U.S. response to a resurgent ISIS or hostile Iran.
CAIR gave high marks to Congress members who signed onto a letter criticizing the Department of Homeland Security's latest Countering Violent Extremism program, an initiative that Islamists have historically opposed for encouraging Muslim communities to report possible terrorism threats. Similarly, House Democrats received plaudits for a letter requiring the FBI to "launch an investigation of the assassination of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh," whom the U.S. State Department concluded was likely killed by unintentional Israeli fire.
Other favorable bills included the "No Ban Act," which would deprive U.S. presidents of the power to prohibit immigration from any class of alien, an authority recently upheld by the Supreme Court; and a bill that would create a Special Envoy to monitor and combat "Islamophobia" abroad, which could treat countries such as France, India, and Israel as equal to genocidal regimes in China and Myanmar.
CAIR isn't the only Islamist organization to neglect issues of common concern to Americans. The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, America's largest Muslim umbrella group consisting of America's top Islamist nonprofits, holds an annual "Muslim Advocacy Day" on Capitol Hill. This year, USCMO lobbied for interest free student loans for Muslim students, in accordance with Islamic lending practices, as well as a bill that, despite security concerns, would provide blanket citizenship to nearly 80,000 Afghan nationals recently settled in the U.S.
Some Islamist-backed candidates are vocal about elevating an agenda that puts Islam first. Ruwa Romman, a former CAIR employee and one of four Muslims elected to the Georgia General Assembly in November, was not shy about her intentions.
"We don't want thinly veiled anti-Muslim laws known as anti-Sharia laws; going after the Muslim community for enhanced surveillance is unacceptable; working with anti-Muslim think tanks that have been fueled by dark money is unacceptable," Romman said.
Divide and Conquer
Al-Hanooti's prediction that Muslims would soon become "a force to be reckoned with," has already been realized. A religious community that makes up just 1 percent of the U.S. population is making the difference in more than a few elections with major consequences.
With a vast political infrastructure in place, Islamists will continue to manipulate the Muslim vote and use it to advance their extremist agenda. However, Islamist primacy over the Muslim vote is only as durable as the consensus – real or imagined – that unifies the community.
Cracks in the supposed Muslim bloc began emerging in 2020, when the Islamist coalition overseeing the largest Muslim voter engagement initiative collapsed.
Emgage's Million Muslims Vote campaign was originally a joint effort involving CAIR, MPower Change, and other groups. The participants abandoned the program in 2020 and started their own voter mobilization efforts because Emgage was not sufficiently committed to anti-Israel activism. Citing the same concerns, Islamic student groups at more than 30 U.S. universities dropped Emgage from a registration drive on college campuses.
Despite providing a platform for anti-Semitic speakers, and holding candidate forums at mosques known for anti-Jewish rhetoric, Emgage was unwilling to prioritize the Arab-Israeli conflict above other issues of importance to the Muslim community. For this slightly less radical approach, Emgage was rewarded with favoritism and jobs from the Biden administration.
In states such as Michigan and Minnesota, Republican candidates began courting the Muslim vote in 2022, making high profile appearances to capitalize on the growing Muslim discontent with far left progressive causes. Republican outreach failed to result in success at the polls, perhaps because in both states, Republicans also coordinated with Islamists.
However, the end result has been to fracture Islamists' once impregnable hold over Muslim voters. Without the help of its allies, Emgage Million Muslim Votes campaign achieved questionable results in 2020. A former staffer claimed that Emgage "misrepresents its power through sham data, because it reaches out to non-Muslims for voter registration when it is turned away from Muslim spaces."
If Islamist dominance within the political sphere is to end, efforts must be pursued to emphasize divisions between the various factions vying for legitimacy and power. Democrats and Republicans must reward those Islamic groups that are truly representative of the various ethnic and sectarian sections within the greater Muslim community.
Lawmakers and candidates should cultivate relationships with Muslim groups that refuse to allow "back home politics" to dictate their political platforms – groups that recognize that partisan politics often do not align with Islamic religious values.
Until politicians recognize that there are meaningful alternatives to represent the Muslim American community, Islamists will continue to assume that they have a mandate from their co-religionists to pursue fringe policies that are at odd with American interests. As they gradually grow their base of power, Islamist groups like CAIR and Emgage will graduate from electing pro-Islamist candidates to building a Congressional Muslim caucus with the consensus needed to pass radical legislation.
Benjamin Baird is the director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.