DEARBORN, MICHIGAN – When Michigan voter Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi casts his ballot in the November election, there is one issue that rises above all others as he makes his choice — respect.
“In this election, honestly, respect and recognition,” the emergency room physician told VOA during a recent interview at his lakefront home in the southeastern part of the state. “The Muslim community would like to be acknowledged as part of this great American nation, and not as an alien culture to this nation. The Muslim community would like to be treated with respect.”
Al-Hadidi supported Democratic former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. He also backed Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, in her successful run in 2018.
But this time around, he isn’t sure if he’ll support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, a Republican.
“I would like some of my concerns addressed before I make up my mind,” he said.
One concern is the U.S. government’s “Terrorist Screening Database” — commonly known as “the watchlist” — which many Muslim Americans feel targets innocent members of their community. A subset of the database is the “no fly” list of individuals barred from boarding commercial flights.
“Definitely that list should be updated,” Al-Hadidi said. “Those who are wrongfully on that list should have their dignity back and should be removed. And that would be fair and just.”
Al-Hadidi added that he would like to see a Muslim American appointed to a high-ranking position in the next administration.
“You’ve got to tell people something to excite them to go out and vote,” said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, a website and newspaper popular with Michigan’s large Arab and Muslim American community. “Just because Biden is not Trump is not a good reason for me to go out and vote.”
While Muslim Americans make up about one percent of the overall U.S. population, they have an outsized influence in Michigan, a battleground state that President Trump narrowly won in 2016 by just over ten thousand votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.
While the state’s 270,000 registered voters of the Muslim faith could impact the outcome of this year’s presidential race, their preferences are just as diverse as their community.
“Some members of our community can believe that Trump is good on the economy, on business,” Siblani said in an interview at his office in Dearborn. “They may vote on this principle. But a majority of the Arab American community, they want from Biden to hear some commitment to them to excite them to go out and vote because, frankly, under Obama-Biden, Muslims were discriminated against [as well].
“The terrorist watch list started under the Bush administration, but it has been beefed up and became more hurtful to the community than ever,” he added.
Siblani also says many in the community are outraged over the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from some countries with majority-Muslim populations — a ban Biden has pledged to end. At the same time, he said there is recognition and support for Trump’s efforts to promote peace and reduce U.S. troop levels in the Middle East.
“We would like to have a conversation with the Trump administration,” he said. “I believe that there are some issues that we are very interested in. Him not being very hawkish on war in the region, that’s very important to us.”
Siblani believes the choice for president in this election is not an easy one for many Muslim Americans.
“There is like 50% to 60% of our community that is not excited by the Biden campaign,” he said. “They’re disgusted with the Trump campaign.”
Others see the contest differently.
“It’s not that people are deciding between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Often times it’s between Joe Biden and not voting,” said epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former executive director of Detroit’s Health Department who ran against Whitmer for the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor in 2018.
Today he is chair of the political action committee Southpaw Michigan, which advocates for progressive causes.
“The point that I’ll always make to the community is you are voting for your own political power,” El-Sayed told VOA during a recent Skype interview. “As the proportion of Arab Americans voting and Muslim Americans voting in elections grows, it forces politicians to pay attention because if they want those votes … that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.”
A recent poll of American Muslims by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding conducted from March through April shows about 78 percent of those eligible to vote are registered, an 18 percent increase since 2016. While no poll of Muslim Americans has been issued in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, previous surveys have shown the community backing Democrats more often than Republicans.
Al-Hadidi senses great anticipation among Muslim Americans for the Nov. 3 election.
“The Muslim community is really motivated and a lot more educated that this election is going to make a big difference in their life in general,” he said. “There is a significant amount in the Muslim community, especially in this election, who are independent and open minded in how to vote in the presidential and federal elections.
“There is no Muslim monolith,” El-Sayed said. “No one community thinks with one mind. We are a diverse community just like any community in this country.”