This article originally appeared here.
When you think of Texas, you probably don’t think of Muslims. But Texas is home to the one of the largest and fastest growing populations of Muslims in the United States.
No, we didn’t show up in caravans across the border in some grand plot to infiltrate and overthrow the government. But many of our ancestors did arrive on slave ships. More recently in the 20th century, many Muslims arrived on college campuses. And many Muslims never actually “arrived,” since one in five Muslim adults in the United States is actually a convert.
Politicians have clearly taken note of our presence, especially here in Texas. I was fortunate to be invited to deliver the Eid sermon in Houston at the end of the holy month of Ramadan this year at the NRG Arena with tens of thousands of Muslims in attendance. On stage when I arrived was Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, senate candidate (and possibly future presidential candidate) Beto O’Rourke, Gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez, and many other notable Texas politicians.
The sight of Texas politicians has become more regular at our mosques, and there are a lot of mosques in Texas now — 338 of them to be exact, and many in the process of construction.
Of course it isn’t just politicians that have taken note of the growing Muslim presence in Texas, but hate groups as well. We’ve been in the national spotlight with regular armed protests and mosque arsons here, many of which were triggered by politicians who targeted our community with hateful rhetoric.
But here is how we’ve chosen to respond. In Houston, a year before I delivered the Eid sermon to a Texas-sized Muslim gathering, the city was struck by Hurricane Harvey. The Islamic Society of Greater Houston opened its Texas-sized mosques to evacuees with love, even though it was one of the busiest times of the year for Muslims — 21 mosques to be exact.
At the time, the president of the Islamic Society said that the evacuees were the “No. 1 priority. They will not be disturbed, they will not be displaced, they will not be moved,” and that Muslims would pray in the parking lot if they had to, in order to be more hospitable.
Closer to home in southern Dallas this April, the oldest Mosque in Dallas dating back to the 1970s, Masjid Al Islam, hosted its annual Day of Dignity, which serves more than 1,500 people with clothes, toys, food, health screenings and essential home supplies. These mosques are not meant to be a cause for curious concern to our neighbors, but a source of unconditional comfort.
But one thing has happened fairly recently in these Texas mosques. Muslims have been service oriented for a long time, but are now learning to be more politically engaged. In the midst of the constant targeting of the community, Muslims have awoken from their complacency and realized that there is a reason politicians are showing up more often these days. We have serious potential voting power.
An article in the Dallas Morning News noted two years ago that Muslims had become an “organized political force” in Irving after feeling targeted by the former Irving Mayor who moved on to the Trump administration, Beth Van Duyne. Muslims in Irving realized that they had the power to vote out elected officials who tried to score cheap political points by exploiting irrational fears about the Muslim community.
Instead, those politicians did us a favor by helping us generate unprecedented voter turnouts. And in poetic fashion, one provisional vote, cast by a young disabled Muslim who was driven to the polls by his mother, swung the election in Irving, saving it from having to hold an expensive run-off.
Fast forward to 2018 and over the last few months, mosque sermons have revolved around civic engagement, with voter registration tables ready at the front door. The Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, a non-profit think tank where I serve as president, prepared a toolkit for imams and mosques to impress upon congregants the urgency of civic engagement.
Gone are the days in which American Muslims, specifically in Texas, assume that service alone is enough to ensure harmony in our communities. There is a new understanding that the hate that politicians recklessly have spawned against the Muslim community isn’t just dishonest, but downright dangerous to us all.
And while Texas has become a vibrant home for Islam in America, it is also arguably our capital of Islamophobia. But Muslims in Texas will continue to exist, to serve, and, now, to vote in high numbers. And while we serve our communities, we will simultaneously hold politicians accountable who try to alienate us from our communities.
But love cannot be generated at the ballot box. For that, we all must overcome the divisiveness that has isolated us from one another, and carry ourselves to each other’s places of worship and circles of understanding, just as we do to the polls.
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