On November 5 I talked with local resident Wasif Qureshi, chair of the Emerge USA/PA Foundation.
What is Emerge USA?
Emerge USA started in southern Florida about ten years ago in order to encourage Muslims to take a more active role in civic life. Emerge USA educates the voter base about civic rights, issues, and candidates. It then spread to other states such as Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Delaware.
When was it founded and what has it accomplished so far?
Emerge USA was active in the 2008 and 2012 elections and now in 2016. Its theme is “emerging leaders – emerging voters – emerging data.” The data allow Emerge USA to track legislative performance, create educated citizens, and to keep in contact with Muslim voters, especially building for the future by getting youth involved and teaching them political leadership skills with the Emerging Leaders Program.
About 3.3 million. It is not an ethnic category: many African Americans are Muslims; many Arabs are Christians, many South Asians are Hindus. Many live in urban areas such as New York City and Philadelphia (over 200,000).
How did you move into your current role in Emerge USA?
My involvement redoubled in the current election cycle. My son started crying unconsolably after catching a glimpse of the Republican primary debates. “They are going to throw us out or kill us all,” he sobbed. As a father and medical doctor, I had to do all I could after that to counteract rhetoric that terrifies our children and puts our women in the front line, as they can be more identifiable as “the other” than men.
Also, I used to give talks in other parts of the state with late Emerge USA/PA Foundation chair Mazhar Rishi, a role model to many of us, and I promised him to continue his work.
How about the political process?
Often in the past, politicians were usually just looking for photo ops before an election. We are pushing them to get beyond that. We want to integrate Muslims into the electoral process. The Emerge USA Foundation is non-partisan; one thing we do is register voters.
We organized a forum with local candidates on October 13 in West Goshen, with excellent attendance and discussion. We invited candidates from both parties; ultimately 6 Democrats and one Republican participated.
On Friday, imams at the several mosques in our area urged Muslims to perform their civic duty to vote. This year I expect the highest ever Muslim vote.
Emerge USA also has a PAC, which endorses candidates, but I am not involved with that.
What other projects does Emerge USA carry out?
We were involved with the Philly Eid project, which earlier this year succeeded in getting our holy days Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha added to the official school calendar in Philadelphia.
Historically, have Muslims in this country participated readily in voting, running for office, and other forms of civic engagement?
In 2000 Muslim votes gave George Bush the victory in Florida; in 2016 they gave Bernie Sanders the victory over Hillary Clinton in Michigan.
The Muslim ethos is to use every moment in life to do things for others; participating in political life is important to us.
Last year we ran an Emerging Leaders Program for several college graduates, encouraging them to grow as leaders, including in political life.
Can the current unsettling national rhetoric have a positive side?
Martin Luther King Jr. put a lid on xenophobic and racist rhetoric, but now it has emerged into public view again. However, people don’t fear the consequences as much now; it needs to be talked about to be vanquished.
In 2001 Muslims had to register with the INS when leaving or entering the country; that is out now. When our young people don’t find support in their schools, they can go online. Adults have seen discrimination and are better equipped to deal with it.
Islam is about the people around us, helping them feel comfortable and welcome. We do a lot of interfaith activity, support others, and receive support.
Dean Obeidallah, “Hillary Clinton’s Khizr Khan Campaign Ad Finally Gives American Muslims the Humanity They Deserve,” Huffington Post, 10/24/16
Wajahat Ali, “The Khizr Khan Voters,” New York Times, 11/1/16, including a reference to Emerge USA
Ivey DeJesus, “Muslim PAC gets the vote out for Hillary Clinton in battleground Pennsylvania, PennLive, 11/4/16