The newly renovated dome of the Capitol shone in the background as hundreds of Muslim delegates from around the country gathered on the steps, after a morning key issues briefing and training session on May 1, 2017, before heading off to scheduled meetings with their elected officials, both in the House and Senate. More than 400 people registered for the event representing 30 states.
Delegates, including youth and children, met with around 230 elected officials and congressional staffers during the record-breaking third annual National Muslim Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., despite the anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies disseminating from the White House.
Last year 330 delegates from more than 28 states trekked across the maze of the Congressional campus and met with 225 elected officials and congressional staffers. Muslim delegates participating in this year's advocacy day event met with a third of the House of Representatives and almost half of the Senate.
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of several leading national and local Muslim organizations and institutions, organizes the annual event. The Washington D.C. delegation was led by the Nation's Mosque leader, Imam Talib Shareef.
Diverse grassroots advocates from across the country come to the nation's capitol to meet with their members of Congress to garner support for civil liberties for all, for policies that protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants. They addressed issues such as anti-profiling, the Bridge Act that protects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and protecting religious freedom at the borders.
More than 752,000 young people in the U.S. have received DACA. The temporary three-years of protection granted under the BRIDGE Act ensures that these young people can continue to work and study and be protected from deportation while Congress debates broader immigration reform.
Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen Corey Booker (D-NJ), Sen Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sen Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Sen Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Congressman Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Congressman Al Green (D-TX), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL), Congressman Gary Palmer (D-AL), Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin were among the elected officials who met Muslim leaders and delegates.
There are several bills in both House and the Senate that seek protection from the Presidential Executive Order on travel, effectively known as the Muslim Ban, as well as a registry based on religion. This year, the big ask was to support Sen. Ben Cardin's End Racial and Religious Profiling Act of 2017 (ERRPA), a bill that would effectively eliminate racial, religious, and other forms of discriminatory profiling by law enforcement. The organizations that form USCMO believe there is no rational justification for profiling and draws attention to the damaging effects it has on minority community trust of law enforcement.
M. Farooq Qadree, board member of the Muslims of America, felt privileged to represent American Muslims on Capitol Hill and advocate for his fellow Americans' rights. His home in Islamberg was threatened by a terrorist attack by the extremist Robert Duggart.
'Muslim Advocacy Day teaches the community that our civil duty does not start and end at the ballot box,' said Khalil Meek, executive director of Muslim Legal Fund of America, a national charity that funds legal work to defend constitutional rights for Muslims in America. 'We have to be actively engaged with legislators and other communities to advocate for laws that are good for all Americans.'
On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, advocates continued their meetings with their members of Congress and Senators and their staffers to share their stories about the impact of anti-Muslim policies such as profiling, the Muslim ban and CVE. 'We had a great meeting [with Sen. Dianne Feinstein] where we were able to voice our concerns and clarify misconceptions,' shared Shaykha Lubna Molla, who came with the California delegation with participants from Sacramento to San Diego.
MAS Executive Director Mazen Mokhtar said: "The time has come for everyone to realize that we are an integral part of the fabric of this country. Today I do not expect that we will meet our representatives and we will magically, just automatically change their minds. But we will get to know them and they will get to know us. And time after time, our values and our causes will become more familiar. And time after time it will become increasingly difficult to target any group, Muslim or non-Muslim that is active."
'I think it has been very tough on the American Muslim community because so many people have distorted what the truth is,' said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri reassuring advocates of her support. She was attending the reception held at the St Mark's Church. This was a hub of networking, punctuated with announcements and comments by elected officials as they came in to meet and greet. One such announcement was that Dr. Asif Mahmood of Pasadena, CA is running for the position of the lieutenant governor in 2018. A pulmonologist and a Muslim immigrant from 'the great blue state of CA', he calls himself a triple threat to the President. Dr. Mahmood said, "I'll be a strong voice for all people he [President Donald Trump] is trying to silence. Let's get tough on the right things, on hate, division, poverty and poor healthcare."
Another source of good news received by the delegates at the reception was Congressman Beto O'Rourke's declaration that he's running against Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. He was met with cheers. On Muslim Hill Day 2016, Sen Cruz had refused to meet with his Muslim constituents.
"Muslim Advocacy Day provides our community with a platform to build relationships with their legislators and to advocate for issues that positively shape our local communities,' said CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher. 'The growing success of Muslim Advocacy Day illustrates that New York Muslims are growing their political muscle and helping influence state politics for a more inclusive, tolerant and just society."