Here to Vote? Please See the Lady In the Blue Hijab

Community News
blue-hijab-545x341 Faiza Coleman–Salako, 38 is a teacher of Advanced Placement U.S. Government & Politics at the Al-Huda School in Prince George’s County. This was the first time this mother of three children was an election judge at a polling station in Laurel, Maryland, during the U.S. presidential elections held on November 6, 2012.

She follows politics from around the world and appreciates the political process. Teaching AP Government and her strong feelings about Question 6 and 7 on the ballot motivated her to sign up for the position.  The Muslim Link spoke to her about her experience and the importance of civic engagement.

It was an exhausting sixteen hour day, but Coleman-Salako said that she would do it again as it was so rewarding to see people vote for the first time, esp. to see parents bringing their children to vote for the first time. “That meant a lot to me as a mother, to see mothers, some who could not vote themselves, accompanying their children," she said.

"My day started at 5:30 a.m., so we were there to set up the polling station before the voters arrived at 7:00 a.m. "I voted early and waited for an hour, however, [on the day of the election] there was never a long wait, at least in my polling station,” she remarked. Early voting helped ease the flow for election officials as 60 percent of the votes were processed before election day.

She gave a lot of thought into the colors she wore that day to appear the least threatening as possible, finally choosing a blue scarf with subtle yellow hints. “I was very apprehensive and afraid as there a lot of older retirees in my area. I didn’t know how they would react to me. Would they want to share personal information with me?” she admitted.

Her co-judges, as they were attending to the voters and registering people, started funneling people in line to her by referring to her as the lady with the blue scarf.

“Smiles say a lot,” says Coleman. She was welcoming and  well received by voters. The human experience carried them through the day; people smiled back and thanked her for being there to help them out. “It is the unknown that scares them until they realize that you are a human just like them,” she observed.

“We cannot afford to stay inactive; people need to see us not just as owners of pizza shops and doctors, but also as active citizens,” she said. Coleman-Salako does not think that everyone needs to run for office but just being a good, involved citizen has benefits; people appreciate it when they see goodness.

Coleman-Salako says that she was disappointed that she did not see many Muslims voting. “The number of Muslims was very low, [I saw] some brothers -- actually it is hard to tell with Muslim brothers. I received a couple of 'Assalam alaikums' and saw a few sisters, but I know that there are a more Muslims in our area,” she said.

“We have to engage. We, sometimes, have this cult mentality, and we marginalize ourselves,” maintains Coleman-Salako, “I find my students disconnected … they sometimes feel that they cannot be pious Muslims if they don’t reject the larger society or if they stop being the ‘other’. I want to be an example to them, show them how this can also be dawah.”

“Anyone can sign up who matches their criteria. It is a paid position; we attended training where we received $50 and in my county, they paid [election judges] $200. The money is received 6-8 weeks after services.”  In Maryland election judges make a 2 year commitment, Coleman-Salako will be expected to work in any primary or special elections that take place over the next 2 ...

“I could see people marking their [sample] ballots for or against candidates or choices that I may have had a personal affinity towards, but I felt that it was their right to express themselves and my belief is that there is no compulsion in our religion.”  Coleman-Salako found electioneering tactics were so unwelcome inside the polling station that no one dared to do anything to compromise the atmosphere.

She found it easy to balance her duties with her strong feelings about the questions on the Maryland ballot.  “We were told that we could not be political. We had to ensure that every single voter gets to vote.”

“I really appreciated the process. Election judges are supposed to take many measures to insure that the process is fair. They do a zero vote count in the beginning, padlock the ballot boxes and 2 members from either party are seated to ensure that nothing goes awry," she said. She thinks that there are many lessons that Muslims can take from the process in running our own organizations. Our elections can be modeled after these elections.

Masajid and Muslim organizations would benefit if they held the activities in their organizations to the same level of accountability and transparency. "Is [all] government transparent? Of course not, unscrupulous things happen everywhere, but we can apply the lessons from the election process to our relations between the Shoran and the congregation,” she explained.

At the end of the day, she felt petty for being afraid. “It was a wonderful experience. What made me think that something bad may happen? It was the fear of the unknown and [non-Muslims] have the fear of the unknown as well. This will [dissipate] when Muslims are proactive and develop as American citizens.”