Some Muslim candidates face backlash on campaign trail

Ibrahim Hirsi/MinnPost | 8/9/2018, 6 a.m.
Two months ago, Fardousa Jama did something no other Muslim woman in South-Central Minnesota has done: She filed to run ...
Fardousa Jama

The current crop of candidates isn’t only diverse in their political philosophies or career backgrounds. Of the 15 Muslim candidates, seven are women, including Regina Mustafa, who’s running for mayor in Rochester; and Hodan Hassan, a candidate for a state House seat in District 62A in Minneapolis.

Each of the candidates in Minnesota has a different explanation for why he or she decided to run this year.

For Ms. Jama, the journey to become a City Council candidate in Mankato started a year and a half ago when President Trump announced a series of policies restricting immigrant and refugee arrivals in the United States. Ms. Jama wants to use the status of a City Council member to raise awareness about the challenges that immigrants and refugees face in Mankato, while also performing the other expected duties of a council member, including passing ordinances, managing city finances and reviewing policy proposals.

But Haaris Pasha, a 29-year-old Minneapolis-native and son of Pakistani immigrant parents, doesn’t want to emphasize President Trump’s anti-Muslim policies or even his own Muslim identity when talking about his candidacy.

That isn’t because Mr. Pasha doesn’t want others to know about his faith. It’s just that he prefers to talk about his accomplishments, his long service as an advocate for justice and equality and the changes he plans to make if he is elected.

“We need quality candidates,” he said. “It’s not enough to be just a Muslim. I think we really need someone who’s going to do the work of unearthing the mechanisms of law and policy and how that actually interacts with people’s lives.”

Osman Ahmed, a longtime community organizer who also is running for the District 62A House seat, also doesn’t want to use the Trump administration’s immigration policy when talking to constituents. Instead, he focuses on his years-long advocacy service with immigrant, refugee and other minority groups in Minnesota and the work he plans to do if he gets elected.

Like Ms. Jama, Mr. Ahmed said he has encountered more than a couple of prejudiced comments in the course of campaigning. It happened while knocking on doors and while speaking to voters on the phone, he said. Some people have even emailed messages about why he doesn’t belong in America.

“Some people said to me, ‘Why don’t you fix the country you came from,’ ” he said. “Others said, ‘You guys are taking over the state.’ ”

Ms. Mustafa, the mayoral candidate in Rochester, posted on her Facebook page about receiving anti-Muslim threats in the mail last month. She notified the police about the incident.

Not all the Muslim candidates, however, have encountered a backlash. Mr. Pasha, for example, said that he hasn’t dealt with any of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigration experiences that Ms. Jama, Mr. Ahmed and Ms. Mustafa have encountered while campaigning.

“It’s not like I’m saying everyone is accepting,” Mr. Pasha said. “But that hasn’t been my experience as a candidate.”

After Ms. Jama took a couple of weeks to recover from her door-knocking experience, she posted about it on Facebook, saying the incidents won’t stop her from continuing her campaign. She also said she didn’t want to go out campaigning alone and asked people to join her. In response, a half dozen white residents in Mankato joined her last month.

Among them was Tony Friesen, owner of Friesen’s Family Bakery & Soup Bar in Mankato and Dan Feehan, a DFL candidate for Congress in the 1st District. With the presence of Mr. Friesen and Mr. Feehan, Ms. Jama said she noticed things were different than when she campaigned with her niece. She said she was treated just like any other candidate.

The nonprofit news outlet MinnPost provided this article to The Associated Press through a collaboration with the Institute for Nonprofit News.