A newly-formed umbrella group of American Muslim organizations is planning to conduct a census as a means to help promote the rights and goals of its members.
The new U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations includes the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Legal Fund of America, the Muslim American Society, American Muslims for Palestine, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance in North America, the Muslim Ummah of North America, and The Mosque Cares.
"This census will create a database that will be used to enhance political participation in upcoming elections," council Secretary General Oussama Jammal said Wednesday during a news conference. "Hopefully, this will give inspiration to American Muslims who are interested in public service to know they have the votes behind them."
Talib Abur-Rashid, deputy amir with the Muslim Alliance in North America, said the census can provide "a practical step toward the exercising of our faith community's civil and humans rights in American society."
Over the last century, the passing of civil rights, voting rights and immigration laws were major steps for the country, he said.
"The political landscape of the nation is one in which issues tied to these very same pieces of legislation ... are hot-button topics of discussion and sources of political controversy and struggle," Mr. Abur-Rashid said. "As Muslims we are just as concerned about these issues as any other American."
No official start date has been set for the census, as the resources and materials need to be assembled, Mr. Jammal said, but the goal is to have the database completed in time for the 2016 presidential election.
The U.S. Census Bureau does not include questions about religious affiliation and practice. According to the Pew Research Center, various studies estimate that 6 million to 7 million Muslims are in the U.S.
Mr. Jammal noted that a growing number of Muslim Americans have been elected to various leadership positions throughout the country. Two members of Congress are Muslim — Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, both Democrats.
"The Muslim community is one of the most diverse communities, if not the most diverse religious community in America," said Khalil Meek, executive director of the Muslim Legal Fund of America. "We have a vast amount of resources and education and principles and values that we want to share with this great country. We want to contribute and we hope this platform is the beginning of that opportunity to better serve and unite our voice for the benefit of all."
"We we want to fully participate and engage in the civic process," said Osama Abu Irshaid, of the American Muslims for Palestine. "We also want to ward off the evils of bigotry and Islamophobia, and begin to define ourselves instead of allowing others who don't understand us [but] fear us ... tell us how to live and how to worship in this country."
Any Muslim organization can apply for membership to the council. Voting and non-voting membership opportunities are available.
Among the eight organizations represented at Wednesday's announcement at the National Press Club, no women were present. Mr. Jammal said the hope is to have female leaders step forward as their organizations become members of the council.
Nihad Awad, executive director for CAIR, said his organization would likely take the lead in advocating for civil rights for Muslim Americans.
"This is the dream for every American Muslim, which is to unify the approach, the agenda, the aspirations and the vision of the Muslim community," he said. "American Muslims, through this platform, are going to tell their own story, are going to define themselves through their own reality. A platform like this, we believe, is going to be representative of the reality of the Muslim community."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.