Dear Friend —
Last night, I attended the White House Iftar on behalf of MPAC along with two of our Young Leader alumni, Wardah Khalid and Yusuf Abdul-Qadir. I had the opportunity to sit at the table with President Obama along with the responsibility to raise pressing issues facing our community. I joined eight other young American Muslim leaders at the table with the President where together we highlighted real concerns we had about the future of Muslims in our country.
After the President gave his welcoming speech, where he spoke out against religious, racial and ethnic prejudices — and highlighted the brutal Chapel Hill murders — he sat at our table and we began to discuss our unique backgrounds. Some of the guests at the table included Samantha Elauf, who took her discrimination case against Abercrombie & Fitch to the Supreme Court and won; Munira Khalif, who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools; Kadra Mohamed, the first Somali American Muslim woman in the St. Paul Police Department; and Wai Wai Nu, a former Rohingyan political prisoner who advocates against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
I conveyed to the President my deep belief that we need to go beyond surface level engagement and develop an institutionalized manner of including American Muslims in the policy-making apparatus within the Administration. I explained that the American Muslim community needs the Administration to create a space for us to raise issues that matter to both our community and to the American public. I continued by providing the President with specific recommendations he can pursue. To that end, I asked him to appoint a Muslim to a Cabinet-level position, provide an opportunity for our community to follow up on the issues we care about the most through the development of an advisory committee, and at the very least, appoint a Muslim liaison to American Muslim communities within the Office of Public Engagement.
The most pressing matter I raised with President Obama is the need for his Administration to engage with the American Muslim community on issues that expand beyond national security concerns. One of the major criticisms of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) framework is that it singles out Muslims. Instead, I recommended that CVE should aim to include all right-wing extremists groups — regardless of their faith or political leaning — that pose a threat to the United States and aim to counter their violent ideologies. I highlighted Charleston as an opportunity for his Administration to show that CVE applies to different communities, not only the Muslim community.
Lastly, I conveyed my deep concern with media biases that contribute to the vilification of the Muslim community and expressed my fear that the portrayal will lead to more hate crimes. I shared my personal story where I experienced discrimination because of my faith and how that contributed to my passion to work for the safety of Muslims in this country.
The White House Iftar provides an opportunity for the American Muslim community to directly engage with their President and senior level officials. We have access. We need to go beyond the White House Iftar and create a space where the leaders of our community can engage in regular meetings with the Administration to raise our concerns. Every major community in America has a process for their engagement and regular meetings with the Administration except the American Muslim community.
Access is half of the engagement process. We need to institutionalize engagement.
Founded in 1988, the Muslim Public Affairs Council improves public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging our government, media and communities.