The American Muslim community made itself a visible and vocal presence in the run-up to the election of 2000, as Islamist (or fundamentalist Muslim) figures delivered invocations at both of the major parties' national conventions, a first in both instances. For the GOP, the honor fell to Talat Othman, chairman of the Islamic Institute; for the Democrats, it was Maher Hathout, the senior adviser at the Muslim Public Affairs Council's (MPAC). While purely symbolic, Muslims were very much cheered by these gestures; as MPAC noted, "it is important that Muslims are recognized among religious groups." 1

But the Muslim debut on the national political stage was not an entirely smooth one. Soon after Hathout's invocation, Jewish groups and The Wall Street Journal noted that he had previously praised the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah as "fighting for freedom," adding that "this is legitimate."2 With this, the Muslim groups found themselves on the defensive, their political patrons embarrassed.

Beyond the momentary flap, this new-found political prominence of American Muslims raises several questions: What was the number of Muslims and who did they go for in the presidential election of 2000? Did they vote as a bloc, as some claimed? If so, on what basis? What are the longer-range implications of their vote in 2000?

The Muslim Community

Demographics. Prior to 1965, when American immigration law changed to permit many more non-Europeans to enter the country, only small numbers of Muslims lived in the United States; and there was little communal activity, owing mostly to their own lack of education and a worry about provoking prejudice. After 1965, however, because the immigration act of that year laid down a preference for professionals, scientists, and artists of "exceptional ability," the Muslim community benefited from an influx of educated, talented individuals who quickly developed financial muscle. As a result, one survey shows that of Muslims associating with a mosque, slightly more than 50 percent possess a college degree, a figure that ranks them higher than the general U.S. population. (At the same time, only about 80 percent have a high school diploma, placing them below the general population in this regard. This contrast may be due to the recent arrival of large numbers of Muslims from impoverished countries and the conversion of substantial numbers of badly-off Americans.)

The number of Muslims living in the United States is often placed at six million but there is considerable disagreement surrounding this figure. Some extreme estimates place the number at 12 million, while Paul M. Perl of Georgetown University puts it at 3.5-4 million.3 In a much-publicized report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other organizations in April 2001, the estimate was upped to 7 million, seemingly on a sound statistical basis; a closer look, however, finds it to be an entirely impressionistic number. (For details, see the accompanying box.)

Muslim vs. Islamist. Before entering into a discussion of Muslim political activities, a crucial distinction must be made between moderate Muslims and Islamists (or fundamentalist Muslims). Moderates are usually both patriotic Americans and faithful Muslims. They believe Islam is fulfilled in American values and desire to be integrated within democratic, tolerant American society. Islamists, on the other hand, are chauvinists who strive to turn the United States into a strictly Muslim country.4

This difference is of great importance to our study, for it is the Islamists who claim to represent the community, and who in fact have the largest voice through such groups as CAIR, MPAC, the American Muslim Council (AMC), the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), and the Islamic Circle of North America. It is they, for example, who get invited to the White House to share a meal with the president to break the Ramadan fast. Islamists dominate the agenda because "moderates tend to integrate into American life, thus ceding the Islamic organizations to extremists."5

But there are Muslim voices protesting this state of affairs. Mustafa Elhussein, secretary of the IbnKhaldun Society, criticizes "self-appointed leaders who spew hatred toward America and the West and yet claim to be the legitimate spokespersons for the American Muslim community." Elhussein believes that "there is a great deal of bitterness that such groups have tarnished the reputation of mainstream Muslims," and recommends not only that they "be kept at arm's length from the political process, but that they should be actively opposed as extremists."6 Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, director of Rome's Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community, observes that these groups "completely distort the image of who Muslims are and of what they stand for" because they "have never spoken a word to condemn groups like Hamas and Hizbullah that try to legitimize terrorism in the name of Islam."7

To Vote or Not To Vote

The 1996 presidential election marked the first one in which Muslims were engaged. Activists strove to weld the community's constituent parts into a unified, politically mobilized "Muslim voting bloc." The drive faltered, however, partly owing to a "fierce and voluble debate" within the community over whether Muslims should even participate in the American democratic process.8 Observant Muslims questioned whether the community should take part in the affairs of a secular democracy, a political order that some clerics viewed as diametrically opposed to Islam's basic teachings. Opponents of participation generally focused on the "rotten" state of American democracy. The United States, they said, is controlled by "an elite electoral college, manipulative behind-the-scenes owners of political parties, unscrupulous lobbyists, and so-called 'Washington insiders' who 'wheel and deal' in smoke-filled bars to swap political favors for tawdry forms of immoral gratification."9 Others, however, argued that it is every Muslim's duty to participate in order to ensure the wider community's interests.10

In the intervening four years, the debate burnt itself out. According to CAIR's Mosque in America survey, 89 percent of Muslims now "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that "Muslims should participate in the political process."11 In the run-up to the 2000 election, few voices argued against participation. "American Muslims must participate in American politics. That question is settled," declared Muqtedar Khan, director of international studies at Michigan's Adrian College.12 An interesting view came from a writer who asserted anonymously in Pakistan Link that voting in a Western election could help overturn Islam's "culture of control," and the "egoism," "dictatorial tendencies," and "conspiracies" that run rampant throughout "our countries and organizations."13

Indeed, it seemed as if leaders of Muslim organizations sought to marginalize, with success, those who disagreed with the new line. According to Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR, while "there was always this minority opinion that politics was . . . not in keeping with Islamic law," it "has grown even smaller." Before the election, Taha Jaber al-Alwani, chairman of the North American Fiqh Council (an Islamic law body), wrote a fatwa (edict) on participation which the American Muslim Council's website gave prominence: "It is the duty of American Muslims to participate constructively … if only to protect their rights, and give support to views and causes they favor."14 In a primer for immigrants, M. Amir Ali of the Institute of Islamic Information and Education encapsulated current Muslim thinking:
Muslims in America must learn to thrive under secularism, use the tools of secular democracy, but not abuse them in order to bring Allah's sovereignty in the lives of all Muslims and demolish all opposition to it.15
Observant Muslims, however, continue to harbor considerable reservations about American public life. According to the Islamists' own survey, "only about a third [of respondents] strongly agree that Muslims can learn from America as an example of freedom and democracy." Two-thirds (67 percent) "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that "America is an immoral, corrupt society." 16 That said, Islamist leaders have decided nonetheless to forge ahead with playing the political game.

Steps to Gain Influence

Gaining political influence requires four main steps: fundraising, recruiting candidates, voting, and creating a voting bloc.

Fundraising. Muslim fundraising efforts, while enthusiastically attended by activists, were not altogether successful in garnering the large sums expected by big-time politicians. One writer recalled that "I have been involved in [congressional] fund-raisers . . . that have raised $10,000 to $20,000 [but] the scale of Muslim participation is too small to be decisive for those candidates" when a typical race for a House seat costs over $500,000 in California.17 The Washington Report noted that Arab and Muslim PAC contributions to congressional candidates amounted to just 5.5 percent of the "pro-Israel PAC" contributions: $113,881 compared to $2,044,606.18 Candidates in senatorial races such as Michigan's Spencer Abraham and Carl Levin, and Montana's Brian Schweitzer, received from Muslim and Arab American PACs $10,000, $1,000 and $4,000, respectively.19 However, efforts by Arab/Muslim PACs to raise money for George W. Bush were a spectacular failure. The Republican candidate attracted just $218 in "independent expenditures" and nothing else from Arab/Muslim PACs. This sum was spent on "mailing campaigns." (Independent expenditures is money used for or against a candidate, without consulting the candidate as to its use.)20

However, there was at least one exception to this pattern: Muslim fundraising efforts for Hillary Clinton's high-profile New York senatorial campaign garnered her a $50,000 contribution from just one AMA event.

Electing candidates. How to multiply the numbers of Muslims in positions of influence? Start at the bottom, advises Nayyer Ali in Pakistan Link:
Muslims need to be within the political system if they are to influence it successfully . . . Until Muslims become elected in large numbers to local offices, we will be unable to field candidates for higher state and federal offices. Muslims should consider running for school boards or city councils and start the process now.21
This approach found a welcome in the major parties. The Republicans in particular avidly tried to expand their electoral base to include Muslims. Tom Davis, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, spoke at a forum organized by MPAC and encouraged Muslims to put themselves forward: "We are always looking for Muslim candidates . . . In the suburbs you can win."22 At the same forum, having previously mentioned the "Jewish lobby," Representative Jim Moran (Democrat of Virginia) exhorted Muslims not to "be angry because one ethnicity or another has overwhelming influence, get involved!"

The AMA announced an ambitious goal of "2000 for 2000"—running 2000 candidates for local, state, and federal offices in that year's elections, but Muslim success was far more modest. The AMA reports the actual number of Muslim candidates to be 700, of whom just 152 were elected, none of them to federal positions. AMA found those elected serving "as members of precinct committees, delegates to Democratic and Republican party conventions, city councils, state assemblies, state senates, and judgeships."23 Curiously, no fewer than 92 of these were in Texas, apparently owing to a dynamic organizing-committee in that state. Agha Saeed, a professor of political science at Berkeley and the AMA's founder and chairman, blamed the somewhat disappointing overall results on staff shortages and lack of follow-up.24

Voting. How to mobilize Muslims so they go in numbers to the voting-booths? The American Muslim Alliance tried to build a national political structure to accomplish this. Agha Saeed's AMA claims 7,000 members in 93 chapters in 31 states.25 Even so, this does not seem like much. "Muslims and Palestinians are still in their infancy stages as far as their involvement in the country's politics is concerned," judges an author in Pakistan Link, though he is optimistic for the long term: "a new generation of American Muslims has emerged. It is a generation that understands America."26

Early in the 2000 electoral season, a coalition of Muslim and Arab-American groups launched a campaign to register voters. The American Muslim Council created a voter registration kit, and the AMA devoted its leadership conference to "covering skills related to campaigning, critical evaluation of local politics, comparison of the political programs of the major parties, and coalition building."27 In August, Muslim activists and leaders received a step-by-step primer, The American Muslim Voter Registration Guide, courtesy of CAIR.28 September 15, 2000, was designated "American Muslim Voter Registration Day," upon which mosques and Islamic centers duly set up registration tables.29 The Arab-American Institute, which represents significant numbers of Muslims, claims that its national "Yalla Vote" (Let's Go Vote) effort mobilized Arab Americans in nine key states and contacted over 400,000 potential voters by mail or phone to turn out on election day.30

This work apparently did pay dividends, as Muslims won unprecedented access to the presidential candidates, with Bush and Al Gore each meeting with Muslim representatives at least three times. However, it is unclear whether the internal efforts by themselves brought access. Given the exceptionally close nature of election 2000, campaign strategists were keenly aware of the importance of such "battleground states" as Michigan, in which Muslims happened to be numerous. It may have been they who sought out Muslim community representatives.

Building a Muslim Bloc

The challenge. The fragmentation of the Muslim community makes it difficult to fashion a willingness to participate in politics into a strategy by which to play the game. The Indo-Pakistanis, the most active and best-organized element, focus on the Kashmir question. Arabic-speakers see the Middle East, and in particular the Arab-Israeli conflict and sanctions on Iraq, as central. Turks are mostly secularists. Iranians agree on their dislike of the Tehran regime but not on what form of government should replace it. African Americans, according to Shafi Refal, the president of the United Muslims of America, are "mostly concerned with the social issues."31 All this led Muqtedar Khan to lament in August 2000 that each Muslim sub-group "is attempting to organize itself to pursue sectarian rather than the overall goals of the community," thereby preventing
the emergence of a cohesive American Muslim community. Muslim activists focused on persuading Muslims to build cohesion. They did so by arguing that only when voting as a bloc could Muslims sway U.S. policy. Richard Curtiss, a former State Department official and current executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, explained how: Muslim voters demonstrate the discipline this year to turn out their communities to vote as a bloc, [Washington's] Middle East policy will become even-handed … [and] U.S. South Asia policy may also be liberated from the current strong influence of the Israel-Indian alliance, as will U.S. policy toward Iran and probably Iraq. 32
Muslim voting as a bloc would also have an impact on domestic politics: "There will be a weapon to use against the pernicious [Hollywood] culture of drugs, sex, and violence."33

Comparison with Jews. As a counterpoint to Muslims' inability to work together, Islamists frequently referred to the successes of a unified "Jewish lobby." According to Aslam Abdullah, a columnist for Pakistan Link,
the Israeli lobby has built an infrastructure . . . to promote its cause. It has the backing of writers, policy analysts, defense experts, congressional staff, and congressmen themselves . . . Those who dare to speak out pay a heavy price for their stand.34
An element of conspiracy theory often crept in when Islamists discussed the Jews. In the words of Curtiss, there exists a "highly disciplined Jewish bloc vote" funneled through an "Israel lobby" which enjoys "incredible influence in the media." He observes that "by using Holocaust remembrance and support to Israel as catalysts, U.S. Zionists have turned this tiny minority into America's single most influential lobby."35 Accordingly, with slightly obsessive zeal, the Washington Report catalogues "pro-Israel PAC contributions."

These are old grievances, however. New to election 2000 was that Muslims stopped complaining impotently about the omnipotent Jewish lobby and started instead to emulate it. A. Omar Turbi, an Arab-American activist, explained:
Because of our own apathy, lack of experience, and skepticism about the American electoral system . . . only when we began studying the patterns of the highly organized Jewish vote . . . have we seriously debated how to get our issues on the political radar of the year 2000 candidates.36
Hasan Qazwini of Detroit, an Iraqi-born imam, quoted in a newspaper as expressing "envy, admiration, and hostility towards Jews," confided:
we don't like to admit it, but . . . we learn from them lobbying, how to be organized, how to flood newspapers with letters, how to approach politicians. But we are not matching them in our influence. They have more experience.37
In that strangely schizophrenic, love-hate tone Islamists use when discussing the Jews, Muslims were exhorted to follow their example. "The Jewish political power in this country is derived from their use of the ballot box and voting as a bloc [to] attain the impact of 3.5 percent," observed M. Amir Ali. In this manner, "the Jewish population [has] a deciding vote making or breaking politicians who kowtow [sic] the Jews."38 (Despite the belief, however, that the Jews vote as one after taking orders from on high, Jewish organizations have never combined to issue an endorsement of a single presidential candidate.)

AMPCC. Even so, based on the sense among Muslims that in 1996 they had suffered from a lack of guidance, they felt it necessary to create a unified body that would wholeheartedly endorse a single presidential candidate. In 1996, the five major Islamist organizations had met and tried to endorse a single candidate, but at the last minute the AMC pulled out of the budding coalition, MPAC wavered, and the others lost their nerve, "worrying that their members might not understand that the goal was to demonstrate the community's ability to vote as a bloc, not to pick a winner." As a result, the AMC and MPAC backed Bill Clinton, while the National Council on Islamic Affairs (NCIA) endorsed Bob Dole, and the AMA and CAIR took no position.39

In late 1997, chastened by their experience the previous year, the AMA, AMC, CAIR, MPAC, the American Muslim Caucus, and the NCIA formed what would become the American Muslim Political Coordination Committee (AMPCC) with the expressed intention of forging a single political forum. This time, stressing the theme of cooperation, the AMPCC intended to hold regular meetings to decide strategy.40

The expected closeness of election 2000 amplified AMPCC's voice, especially given Muslim concentrations in such key battleground states as Michigan, California, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, and Florida. On October 23, two weeks before the presidential election, AMPCC called a press conference in Washington, D.C., to announce its endorsement of George W. Bush for president. Its head, Agha Saeed, explained why:
Governor Bush took the initiative to meet with local and national representatives of the Muslim community. He also promised to address Muslim concerns on domestic and foreign policy issues.41
Once the AMPCC announced its preferred choice for president, there was a determined effort on the part of Islamist groups to convey the news to every potential voter through the mosques and the Muslim press. The campaign to build Muslims cohesion had to convince Muslim that their interests would best be served by following the "party line." The impact of the AMPCC endorsement, however, is difficult to gauge. In one self-serving survey, the AMA claimed that 93 percent of its respondents indicated awareness of the AMPCC action and 82 percent of them declared it had influenced how they voted.42

How Muslims Voted in 2000

In all, how did Muslims vote? In July 2000, CAIR released a survey of 755 individuals taken the previous month. The utility of the poll is questionable, as it resulted from forms "faxed and e-mailed to individuals and organizations within CAIR's nationwide network" (suggesting a strong Islamist bias). Anyway, it found that although 90 percent indicated an intention to vote, 25 percent of Muslims "have not decided who to vote for or are not satisfied with any of the candidates." Of those who did support a candidate, Gore was ahead of Bush by 33 percent to 28 percent (followed by Pat Buchanan at 7 percent and Ralph Nader at 5 percent).43

CAIR's surveys purportedly show that Muslim voting intentions underwent a sea-change within a few months of November 7. A CAIR poll of 1,022 individuals, released in mid-October, found that 40 percent of eligible Muslim voters now planned to back Bush, and just 24 percent for Gore; Nader had quadrupled his ratings to 20 percent. Only 8 percent registered as undecided.44

In a straw poll conducted during a Muslim leadership meeting in Chicago on October 17, 2000, an audience of 200 persons (again, strongly biased toward Islamists) responded with 69 percent for Bush, 12 percent for Gore and 16 percent for a third or fourth party candidate.45 Between October 27 and November 2, held an online poll of 446 presumably Islamist respondents and found Bush with 54 percent, Gore with 9 percent, and Nader with 34 percent.46

The alleged final numbers, according to a CAIR poll released after the election, were 72 percent for Bush, 8 percent for Gore and 19 percent for Nader.47 Nationally, in a "post-election telephone poll," the AMA found that "more than 80 percent" went for Bush, 9 percent for Gore, and 10 percent for Nader.48 If Ralph Nader had not run on the Green Party line, the figures for Bush would have reflected Muslim and immigrant dissatisfaction with Gore to an even greater extent. (This is not because Greenism is popular with Muslims but that they were attracted to Nader's Lebanese background and his outspoken views on the Middle East.)

To the extent that these surveys conducted by Islamist organizations have validity, they indicate a hemorrhaging of votes from the other candidates to Bush in the final months. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and the GOP's pointman for attracting Muslims, argues that "Bush's talk about outreach and inclusion had extraordinary results—the Muslim community went 2-1 for Bill Clinton [in 1996] and almost 8-1 for Bush."49

It should be emphasized that these are hardly impartial or authoritative numbers but the results of unscientific and dubious self-administered surveys. Accordingly, there is no way of knowing whether they accurately represent Muslim-in-the-street opinion or just mirror what Islamic activists think. An important insight can be gained, however, by looking closely at the Muslim vote in the key battleground state of Michigan.


Michigan, especially Dearborn and Detroit, enjoys an active and well-organized Muslim political, educational, and religious infrastructure. In Detroit, for example, the Muslim Citizens Grass Roots Political Committee, which in mid-October endorsed Bush, serves thirty-six mosques and six Islamic schools. Victor Begg, who oversees the committee's network, met Bush in a meeting engineered by John Engler, the state's Republican governor.50 But it is staunchly Democratic Dearborn, Michigan—a city with a high percentage of Muslims and Arab Americans—that is thought to provide a snapshot of how Muslim voting worked.51

In Dearborn, a city of about 90,000 people, there are 60,000 registered voters and, according to the Islamic Institute, an estimated 9,800 of them are Muslims. In a congressional district that backed Clinton in both 1992 and 1996 and whose Democrat representative was elected to his twenty-second term, Bush won the city of Dearborn 52 percent to 44 percent, or 20,100 votes to 17,100, giving him an overall lead of some 3,000 votes.

In the eastern part of Dearborn, however, where there is a high concentration of Muslims and Arabs, Bush won by 6,800 votes to 4,600—a difference of 2,200 votes. The pro-Republican Islamic Institute argues that therefore Muslims were responsible for 71 percent of Bush's total lead in the city.52 It notes that the eastern part of Dearborn has usually gone Democratic even more heavily than Dearborn as a whole, thereby accentuating the swing to Bush.

This theory is subject, however, to several flaws and contradictions. First, the Arab-American Institute conducted its own analysis of the Dearborn results. At first glance, it appears to bear out the Islamic Institute's findings of a massive swing to the Texas governor: in particular, by looking at select precincts in east Dearborn, it seems that while Bush's lead varied, he always won by a larger margin than his overall Dearborn margin of 52 percent to 44 percent. Thus, at McDonald School, Bush led 68 percent to 24 percent; at Salina School, the result was 72 percent to 21 percent; and so forth. The lowest he seems to have attracted was at Maples School, where the result was 53 percent to 40 percent. 53

However, the Islamic Institute discusses only Muslims, of which, it says, there are 9,800 in the city. The Arab-American Institute, on the other hand, talks of Arab Americans of which there are, according to its figures, 10,000 in Dearborn. The two numbers are suspiciously similar. Because less than a quarter of Arab Americans are Muslims (the rest being Christian),54 it might reasonably be supposed that one of these organizations has mistakenly conflated Muslims with Arabs. If so, the results, therefore, are severely flawed, even useless.

In any case, rosy Islamist predictions of delivering the "key battleground state" of Michigan to Bush came to nothing, even if Dearborn made for an isolated success. In Wayne County—home of Dearborn—Gore won 68 percent to Bush's 30 percent, while in the Senate race, Democrat Debbie Stabenow heavily defeated Islamist-backed (and Arab American) Republican Spence Abraham, 67 percent to 30 percent. State-wide, Gore and Stabenow both won, though their leads were significantly narrower.

Moreover, the theory of Bush's popularity among Muslims contains a flat contradiction. An exit poll of 2,084 Michigan voters conducted by The Detroit News resulted in a very different set of numbers from those commonly bruited by interested parties. In this poll, conducted by a leading news organization using scientific methods and a substantial pool, Muslims were found to have voted for Gore by 66 percent compared to Bush's 30 percent, reversing every self-administered, unscientific Islamist poll. The percentage of Gore-voting Muslims in fact exceeded that of any other religious affiliation. Even Jews, who vote heavily Democratic, only handed Gore 47 percent. Revealingly, this poll also found that African Americans backed Gore 92 percent to 8 percent, suggesting that black converts swelled the Muslim preference for Gore in Michigan.55 The Mosque in America survey, which omitted members of the Nation of Islam, noted that African Americans now number 30 percent of mosque attendees.56 The solid black turnout for the Democrats indicates that, among at least one major ethnic group, the Islamist effort to mobilize Muslims on behalf of Bush has been a failure.

Indeed, black Muslim groups such as the Coalition for Good Government—the political arm of the Muslim American Society, a black convert organization—­refused to join AMPCC in endorsing Bush, instead choosing to back his opponent. Black leaders bitterly complained that the AMPCC did not include African-American representation and thought the Islamist vehicle placed its own narrow concerns about Jerusalem, the Middle East, and Senator Lieberman's Judaism above domestic issues. For blacks, inner-city development, racial profiling, juvenile justice, civil rights, and education policy remain of prime concern.57

What Caused the Shift?

To the extent that Muslims voted for Bush in 2000, there were several causes:

The Aqsa intifada. The outbreak of Palestinian violence against Israel on September 29 highlighted a perceived U.S. government bias towards Israel, severely hurting Clinton's once-lofty popularity rating among Muslims and Arab Americans.58

Al Gore's record. CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper claimed that "Gore's stand on the Middle East was so slavishly pro-Israel that it turned a lot of people off."59 Gore had traditionally been regarded as a soft touch for Israel. The Washington Report's publisher observed that Gore's foreign policy adviser, Leon Fuerth, "set out a hard-line pro-Israel position for the aspiring candidate" as along ago as 1988.60 The Arab-American Institute noted that Gore, as Clinton's vice president, "has remained an ironclad supporter of Israel and has consistently attended and spoken before pro-Israel audiences in the United States."61 Paul Findley, an obsessively anti-Israel former Illinois congressman recently presented with the AMA's Malcolm X Award,62 declared in a piece for an Islamic website that "a vote for Gore is a vote to let Israel control the future of Jerusalem."63

Joseph Lieberman. Muslims were divided on the question of Gore's vice presidential candidate, a result of divergent priorities. For those most concerned about Arab-Israeli affairs, Lieberman's Jewishness was of immense concern, while those seeking to improve the political standing of American Muslims played it down and focused on the senator's support for Muslims on domestic issues.

Thus, when asked whether his Judaism had anything to do with Muslim antagonism towards Lieberman (and Gore), some Muslim leaders publicly denied it. MPAC's Hathout insisted that the "religious affiliation of the candidate is not important," saying that the senator's "belief in God is healthy for us."64 Indeed, in 1998 the AMC bestowed its "Abu Saud Award of Excellence" on the senator for his willingness to aid Islamist causes. Moreover, his well-known stand against Hollywood sex and violence might have boosted his popularity.

Other Muslim activists were less than enamored with Gore's running-mate. Generally, they believed the senator was little more than an Israeli stooge. According to Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Lieberman's devotion to Israel was "unparalleled in any potential president,"65 with the executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, Khalid Turaani, echoing that the senator had "gone to great lengths to serve the interests of Israel."66 Mahjabeen Islam-Husayn, chairman of the AMA's Ohio chapter, found Gore's choice of Lieberman as his vice presidential candidate to be "solely for political gain, money, and victory pushed by the powerful Zionist lobby." Most worryingly, Islam-Husayn continued, "if Gore is endorsed by us and wins, in eight years Lieberman will be running for the top job and who knows, Israel then will really be king of the world."67 In this context, the old canard about Jews having dual loyalties was frequently raised, not least by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who asserted (inaccurately) that Lieberman was an Israeli citizen, and asked "would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to . . . the State of Israel?" 68

However, others tried to split the difference. Speaking of members of his community, Usama Siblani, publisher of Dearborn's The Arab American News, declared that "they're really very, very angry with Al Gore. The issue is not Jew or non-Jew . . . He selected a Zionist to run on his ticket."69 Likewise, Abed Hammoud, a Democratic national convention candidate and president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, was quoted in The Washington Report:
On domestic issues, I support him big time. The problem is Lieberman's voting record on the Middle East. It's scary. Is he going to be vice president for Israel or a vice president of the United States?70
Hillary Clinton's return of money. After it was revealed that Hillary Rodham Clinton had accepted $50,000 from the American Muslim Alliance and $1,000 from the American Muslim Council for her New York senate race, she returned both sums. She said that the AMA's Internet site contained offensive material and that some members had been quoted making statements supporting violence. Her decision was "interpreted by many Muslim Americans as pandering to the state's [New York's] influential Jewish voters."71

Muslims and Arab Americans were reminded of Walter Mondale's rejection of a $5,000 campaign contribution from five Arab Americans in 1984, and Michael Dukakis's refusal to accept the Arab-American Institute endorsement four years later.72 That both of these were Democratic presidential candidates further heightened Muslim and Arab-American concerns about the party—though Hillary Clinton herself still enjoyed a stock of goodwill for her May 1998 comments endorsing a Palestinian state.73

Bush's statement in the second presidential debate. Although the candidates eventually gave Muslims about the same amount of attention, Bush took the lead. According to George Salem, a Republican who chairs the Arab-American Institute, the Gore team was always playing "catch-up."74 In particular, Salem and several other Muslim and Arab-American representatives met Bush on the Thursday before the second debate and reiterated their hostility to secret evidence and racial profiling at airports.75 Then, on October 11 during the debate, Bush said: "There are other forms of racial profiling that go on in America. Arab Americans are racially profiled in what is called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we have to do something about that." Although Bush had conflated racial profiling for law enforcement purposes with the use of secret evidence to detain immigrants suspected of ties to terrorist networks, his comment electrified the Muslim and Arab population. "Within a few seconds I got thirty-one calls on my cell phone," said Usama Siblani, publisher of an Arab-American newspaper in Michigan. "People were excited."76 The AMPCC said Bush had shown "elevated concern" over the matter.77 Salem was overjoyed: "It is unprecedented in U.S. presidential debate history for a candidate for president of the United States to reference such support for Arab-American concerns, and to single out Arab Americans for attention."78 By way of contrast, it was not until October 14—three days after the debate—that Gore announced his conditional support for repealing secret evidence after meeting with a small group of Arab Americans.79

Dick Cheney's record. Despite Bush's numerous statements emphatically supporting Israel, the Republican was seen as more even-handed, in large part because of the clichéd, inaccurate image of Bush as a fool surrounded by competent, sound advisers, which persuaded Islamists that he would be brought round. An interview Cheney gave to The Washington Report in 1989 was circulated. According to the article, the then-new defense secretary vowed to "argue as persuasively as I know how" with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to adopt a "more balanced policy" in terms of improving relations with Arab nations. The article also noted that, following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Cheney said he was "disappointed that the administration has not been somewhat tougher on Israel . . . I think we should have expressed our displeasure in no uncertain terms." Moreover, in July 1982, he bruited "the formation of a Palestinian state,"80 then a far more radical step than now. Bush and Cheney's background in the oil business was also thought likely to make them more appreciative of Arab concerns.81 Nevertheless, one (apparently unheeded) writer reminded readers of the leading roles the president-elect's father, and Cheney himself, had played in prosecuting the Kuwait war.82

Claiming Credit

An "exclusive exit poll" of 350 Florida Muslims, apparently conducted by the AMA and reported on its website, found that 91 percent voted for Bush, 1 percent for Gore, and 8 percent for Nader.83 The Tampa Bay Islamic Center estimated that 55,000 Muslims in Florida voted and that 88 percent of them favored Bush.84 If true, this would mean that Bush's majority among Muslims in Florida was far more than his several-hundred-vote lead over Gore.

From this rather flimsy evidence, Islamist organizations decided that Bush owed them for his victory. Agha Saeed, the AMPCC chairman, concluded that "it won't be long before political analysts realize that Muslim voters have played a historic role." And Sami al-Arian, an engineering professor at the University of Southern Florida and someone who was the subject of a six-year federal investigation for alleged links to Islamist terrorism, added, "Political pundits have been slow in acknowledging the crucial, even decisive, role of the Muslim vote in Florida."85 The chairman of a Massachusetts AMA chapter, Tahir Ali, crowed that if Muslims "had voted like we did in previous elections, guess who would be president right now? Al Gore."86 Republican leaders seeking Muslim support have accordingly paid lip-service to this strange logic: at an MPAC forum in January, Tom Davis, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, declared that without the AMPCC endorsement, "Florida would have been reversed."87

Whether or not they played a key role in George W. Bush's election, he did repay them in several ways.
The president's inaugural speech referred to "church and charity, synagogue and mosque" having "an honored place in our plans and in our laws."

Sheikh Bassam Estwani, a member of CAIR's advisory board, opened a session of the U.S. House of Representatives with an Islamic prayer.88

At the end of January, Imam Hasan Qazwini was photographed next to President Bush (and other religious leaders) at a faith-based-initiative event held at the White House. Previously, he had been a member of a delegation of twenty-five national religious leaders who met Bush in Austin, Texas, on December 22, 2000.89

Leading Republicans met with Islamist representatives from CAIR, MPAC, the AMC, and others to strengthen links on January 21, 2001. They discussed secret evidence legislation, the Post Office's Ramadan stamp, the situation in "Palestine," the Muslim community's role in the election, and hiring Muslim applicants in the Bush administration. Party luminaries present included Newt Gingrich, John Sununu, Grover Norquist, and Tom Davis.90
Already, however, there are complaints that Bush is not coming through on his "personal debt," as Findley has put it, to Islamists. The former congressman notes that "in his brief time in the White House, Bush has already offended Muslims" by ordering air attacks on Baghdad, "sending messages of condolence over the death and injury of Israelis," and "failing to appoint Muslims to senior positions in his administration."91 If Islamist demands are not met, this type of complaints could lead AMPCC to withdraw its endorsement of Bush for 2004.


It can be said with reasonable certainty that the Texas governor did better among Muslims than Dole did four years earlier, when the Muslim vote apparently went more for President Clinton than did the country as a whole.92 Among Arab-American Muslims, there also appears to have been a marked shift to the Republicans between 1996 and 2000.93

Was this tilt a temporary aberration or the harbinger of a long-term political alliance? Did or did not the election of 2000 witness the birth of a permanent national voting bloc?

As a whole, Muslims are socially conservative and this leads some to believe that, in the words of the Islamic Institute, Muslims and Republicans logically form a "natural alliance."94 Representative Davis says, for example, that "Muslims are basically pro-life and have conservative values, and the Republican Party is their natural home."95

But Muslims can by no means be counted as natural Republicans. First, they are fiscal liberals on such issues as taxes, health care, and welfare.96 Second, perhaps one-third of Muslims are blacks and they have an overwhelming loyalty to the Democrats. Third, the Islamist organizations are radicals who hardly reflect moderate opinion. Many have not issued categorical denunciations of terrorism against United States, Israeli, and Western targets; others have alarming connections to groups designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations. Republican leaders who get into bed with Islamists may find themselves constantly having to explain away the latter's embarrassing public statements. The lesson here for Republican and Democratic recruiters is to focus on the broad mass of mainstream, moderate Muslims and not use radical Islamist groups as middlemen.

Fourth, the Islamists constantly insist that their constituents voted for Bush, not the Republican Party. CAIR's executive director, Nihad Awad, has said, "Muslims based their vote on the best choice . . . It happened to be George Bush, but in four years it may be different."97 In other words, as Islamist leaders saw it, Bush—not necessarily his party—was more responsive. According to Salam al-Marayati, MPAC's national director and a moving force behind the AMPCC endorsement, "At least Bush made a play for us [but] I'm still a registered Democrat and will continue to be one."98 Fifth, Islamist leaders want to keep their followers independent rather than attach them to any particular party. As Awad explained, "It is clear Muslims will vote for those candidates who address their concerns."99

It may be inferred that Muslim support for Bush was not as fervent as the Islamists now claim. In the face of the grand total of $218 contributed to Bush by Arab/Muslim PACs, even The Washington Report had to concede that "the Muslim bloc vote did not translate into bloc money."100

For these reasons, what tilt there was to Bush in 2000 was most likely a temporary aberration caused by the election's unique nature. Henceforth, a Muslim vote for Republicans is by no means certain.

Box: The CAIR Population Estimate

According to an April 2001 survey released by four Islamic organizations, 2 million American Muslims "associate with a mosque."101 It then took this number and multiplied it by 3-3½ to find a total U.S. Muslim population of 6-7 million. But where did the multiple of 3-3½ come from? The principal author of the study, Ihsan Bagby, himself admitted to the Los Angeles Times that taking this step was based on "guesswork."102

There are other problems with the study. It assumes that percentages for regular mosque participants are the same as percentage of the Muslim population.103 Thus, if 30 percent of the regular mosque-goers are African Americans, it concludes that 30 percent of all U.S. Muslims must be African-American. But mosque attendance and general ethnicity do not necessarily tally. Some ethnicities attend mosque more than the average, others less.

The survey finds that only 0.7 percent of the total number of regular mosque participants are Iranians, or just above the figure given for the tiny numbers of Hispanic converts. If one uncritically accepts the CAIR total of 2 million mosque participants, just 14,000 Iranians go to mosque. Using the survey's rule-of-thumb— i.e., multiplying mosque participants by roughly three to arrive at a "total" figure—we can extrapolate that the total number of Iranians living in the United States is under 50,000. This is clearly nonsense: according to the 1990 U.S. Census—an age ago, but the latest figures available—there were 54,114 Iranians residing in Los Angeles county alone.

These methodological problems raise questions about the entire study. Unfortunately, one must conclude that the total number of American Muslims remains shrouded in mystery.

Alexander Rose, Ph.D., is the Washington bureau chief for Canada's National Post.


1 "Muslim Delivers Invocation at Party Convention," MPAC Report, 4th Quarter 2000, p. 3.
2 The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16, 2000; Zionist Organization of America news release, Aug. 10, 2000.
3 Ihsan Bagby, Paul M. Perl, and Bryan T. Froehle, The Mosque in America: A National Portrait (Washington, D.C.: CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America, the Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, and the Islamic Circle of North America, Apr. 26, 2001).
4 Daniel Pipes, "It Matters What Kind of Islam Prevails," Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1999.
5 Daniel Pipes, "Defending Islam," Commentary, Feb. 2001, pp. 6-8.
6 The Washington Times, Dec. 17, 2000.
7 In a letter to Commentary, Feb. 2001, p. 6.
8 Khalid Durán, "Muslims and the U.S. Election of '96," Middle East Quarterly, June 1997, pp. 4-5.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 The Mosque in America, p. 31.
12 Muqtedar Khan, "How Can Muslims Impact American Politics?" Nov. 4, 2000, at http://
13 "They Say Muslims Are Not Effective. Let Us Ask Them, Why?" Pakistan Link (Los Angeles), Feb. 18, 2000.
14 Taha Jaber al-Alwani, "Fatwa Concerning the Participation of Muslims in the American Political Process," at; idem, "The Participation of Muslims in the American Political System," Nov. 4, 2000, at
15 M. Amir Ali, "The American Political Scene and Muslim Americans," Institute of Islamic Information and Education (Chicago), at
16 The Mosque in America, p. 31.
17 Nayyer Ali, "Muslims in the American Political System," Pakistan Link, Aug. 11, 2000.
18 Comparison of "Pro-Israel PAC Contributions to 2000 Congressional Candidates" and "Arab/Muslim-American PAC Contributions to 2000 Congressional Candidates," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2001, pp. 49-54.
19 "Arab/Muslim-American PAC Contributions," p. 54.
20 Hugh S. Galford, "Pro-Israel and Arab- and Muslim-American PAC Contributions for the Year 2000 Election Cycle," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2001, p. 48.
21 Ali, "Muslims in the American Political System."
22 "Transition 2001 and American Muslim Political Involvement," MPAC forum, National Press Club, Washington, D.C., Jan. 4, 2001.
23 American Muslim Alliance Election Report, at
24 Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 2000.
25 Ibid.
26 Aslam Abdullah, "Time for a New Type of Politics," Pakistan Link, Oct. 19, 2000.
27 Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, "American Muslim Engagement in Politics," Minaret of Freedom Institute lecture presented at a meeting of the American Muslim Social Scientists, Herndon, Va., 1999, at
28 CAIR news release, Nov. 2, 2000.
29 CAIR news release, Oct. 17, 2000.
30 Election 2000 Report (Washington, D.C.: Arab-American Institute, Nov. 9, 2000), p. 2.
31 Shafi Refal, "Will Muslims Vote as a Bloc?" Oct. 20, 2000, at
32 Muqtedar Khan, "American Muslim Unity: Prospects and Challenges," Aug. 1, 2000, at
33 Richard Curtiss, "The Case for a Muslim and Arab-American Bloc Vote in 2000," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2000, pp. 22-24.
34 Aslam Abdullah, "Time for a New Type of Politics," Pakistan Link, Oct. 19, 2000.
35 Curtiss, "The Case for a Muslim and Arab-American Bloc Vote," pp. 22-24.
36 A. Omar Turbi, "Our Community Has Never Been More Powerful!" The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Oct./Nov. 2000, p. 19.
37 The Boston Globe, Oct. 23, 2000.
38 M. Amir Ali, "Campaign 2000," undated, at http://www.
39 Richard Curtiss, "Dr. Agha Saeed: Dynamic Leader of Expanding American Muslim Alliance," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Dec. 1997, pp. 23-25.
40 Agha Saeed, "Seven Muslim Organizations Establish National Coordination Council," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Mar. 1998, p. 56.
41 CAIR news release, "American Muslim PAC Endorses George W. Bush for President," Oct. 23, 2000.
42 American Muslim Alliance at, Jan. 10, 2001.
43 CAIR news release, "Large Block of Muslim Voters Undecided on Presidential Race," July 6, 2000.
44 CAIR news release, "Bush and Nader Top Gore in Survey of Muslim Voters," Oct. 17, 2000.
45 M. Amir Ali, "American Political Scene and Muslim Americans," Institute of Islamic Information and Education at
46 At
47 CAIR news release, "Muslims Congratulate President-Elect Bush," Dec. 15, 2000; Delinda C. Hanley, "Historic Muslim- and Arab-American Bloc Vote a Coveted Political Prize," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Dec. 2000, p. 110.
48 The Metrowest Daily News (Needham, Mass.), Nov. 18, 2000.
49 The Washington Times, Jan. 24, 2001; CAIR news release, "Republican Leaders Meet with American Muslims," Jan. 23, 2001.
50 Agence France-Presse, Oct. 23, 2000.
51 The Boston Globe, Oct. 23, 2000.
52 The Muslim Vote in 2000, policy paper, Islamic Institute, undated.
53 Jennifer Salan, director of communications, Arab-American Institute, private correspondence with the author, Jan. 5, 2001; The Muslim Vote in 2000.
54 "Arab Americans: Issues, Attitudes, Views," poll by Zogby International for the Arab-American Institute (Washington, D.C.), Jan./Feb. 2000, p. 2.
55 The Detroit News, Nov. 8, 2000.
56 The Mosque in America, p. 17.
57 Anisa Mehdi, "Dueling Endorsements: A Muslim Bloc or Split?" Nov. 3, 2000, at
58 "Arab Americans: Issues, Attitudes, Views," p. 6.
59 The Washington Times, Jan. 24, 2001.
60 Andrew Killgore, "By Their Advisers Ye Shall Know Them: 'The Dark Prince' vs. 'Darth Vader,'" The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Oct./Nov. 2000, p. 12.
61 Summary of Gore's positions on various issues at
62 The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Apr. 2001, p. 97.
63 Paul Findley, "Why Muslims Should Vote for Bush in this Election," at

Interestingly, according to, readers who bought Findlay's book also bought Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Israel Shahak and Edward Said's Open Secrets: Israel's Foreign and Nuclear Policies, and John Sack's An Eye for an Eye: the Story of Jews who Sought Revenge for the Holocaust, which one reader described thus: "I have no doubt that his description of the 1255 [post-war] Concentration Camps in which thousands of innocent German civilians were murdered, differs little from those atrocities handed out by Eichmann, Mengele, and Heydrich. According to Sack, most of these camps were headed by Jewish administrators. Many are alive today in Israel and the USA."
64 In answer to a question by the author during the MPAC forum, "Transition 2001 and American Muslim Political Involvement," Jan. 4, 2001.
65 Quoted in Daniel Pipes, "American Islamists and Lieberman," The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 16, 2000.
66 Ibid.
67 Mahjabeen Islam-Husayn, "Election 2000: The Muslim/Arab Bloc Vote," at
68 Quoted in Pipes, "American Islamists and Lieberman."
69 Allan C. Brownfield, "The Lieberman Candidacy, the Mideast and Unanswered Questions about American Jewish Identity," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Oct./Nov. 2000, p. 73.
70 Ibid.
71 The New York Times, Oct. 30, 2000.
72 Pat McDonnell Twair, "Arab-and Muslim-American Presence Felt at Democratic National Convention," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Oct./Nov. 2000, p. 11.
73 The New York Times, May 8, 1998.
74 "Transition 2001 and American Muslim Political Involvement," MPAC forum.
75 Ibid.
76 Quoted in Newsweek, Oct. 23, 2000; "Bush Brings Secret Evidence into Campaign," The News Circle: Arab-American Affairs (Glendale, Cal.), Oct./Nov. 2000, p. 8.
77 St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Oct. 24, 2000.
78 Arab-American Institute news release, "Secret Evidence Enters Presidential Debates: George W. Bush Pledges to Work for Respect of Law," Oct. 12, 2000.
79 Arab-American Institute news release, "Gore Announces Support for Secret Evidence Repeal; Candidate to Hold 3rd Campaign Meeting with Arab Americans," Oct. 16, 2000.
80 Scott Farris, "New Defense Secretary Seeks Balanced Mideast Policy," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1989, p. 8.
81 Mitchell Kaidy, "Could American Muslims' Support of Bush Eventually Translate into Lower Gas Prices from OPEC?" The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Apr. 2001, p. 18.
82 Arab Media Syndicate, Dec. 19, 2000. He warned: "Too many Arab Americans and the so-called 'Muslim Voting Bloc' could not see beyond their inert hatred of Al Gore because Gore named a Jew as his own running mate."
83 "60,000 Muslim Voters in Florida Played a Historic Role," Nov. 17, 2000, at
84 The Muslim Vote in 2000.
85 "60,000 Muslim Voters in Florida Played a Historic Role."
86 Metrowest Daily News, Nov. 18, 2000; also
87 "Transition 2001 and American Muslim Political Involvement," MPAC Forum.
88 CAIR news release, "Muslim to Open House Session with Prayer," Feb. 6, 2001.
89 The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2001; American Muslim Council news release, "Muslim Leader Discusses American Muslim Inclusion with President-Elect Bush," Dec. 22, 2000.
90 The Washington Times, Jan. 24, 2001.
91 Paul Findley, "President George W. Bush and the 'Vision Thing'," The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Apr. 2001, p. 19.
92 Durán, "Muslims and the U.S. Election of '96," p. 13.
93 The Arab-American Vote in the November 2000 Election (Washington, D.C.: Arab-American Institute, Dec. 14, 2000), pp. 3-4. The 1996 election saw 57 percent of them vote Democratic and just 22 percent Republican.
94 "The Muslim Constituency and the Conservative Movement: A Natural Alliance," The Islamic Institute, at
95 The Washington Times, Jan. 24, 2001.
96 Altaf Husayn, "Election 2000: Between the Public and the Private," at
97 CAIR news conference to announce The Mosque in America: A National Portrait, Apr. 26, 2001.
98 Ira Rifkin, "Bush's Muslim Backing", Oct. 31, 2000, at
99 CAIR news release, "Republican Leaders Meet with American Muslims," Jan. 23, 2001.
100 Galford, "Pro-Israel and Arab- and Muslim-American PAC Contributions," p. 48.
101 The Mosque in America, p. 3.
102 Los Angeles Times, Apr. 27, 2001.
103 See The Mosque in America, p. 17, which contains a table of "Ethnic Breakdown of Regular Mosque Participants," and compare it to Chart 3, "Ethnicity of Muslims," no page number given.