Yaseen Najeeb for Wisconsin Muslim Journal

“I am blown away by the event,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Thursday at the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance’s “Meet the Candidates” gathering. Barrett, who is seeking his fifth term, added, “Feel the energy in this room. Obviously, the Muslim community is very engaged in the democratic process.”

Candidates running in the spring elections in Milwaukee County and members of Milwaukee’s Muslim community began trickling in the Islamic Resource Center, 5235 S. 27 St. in Greenfield, shortly before 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan 9. By 6:30 p.m., the IRC was packed from the front entrance through the conference room in the back.

A loud hum rose as conversations buzzed about equity, food insecurity, homelessness, foster care, transportation, jobs and more. It continued until 9 p.m. when Janan Najeeb, president of the Muslim Women’s Coalition, noted the event had gone on an hour longer than scheduled and thanked everyone for their enthusiastic participation.

The WMCA’s first event, which aimed to build a bridge between the Muslim community and their elected representatives, marked a major milestone in organized political engagement of Milwaukee’s Muslim community. It brought together 33 candidates from Milwaukee County and more than 100 Muslim leaders and voters.

The WMCA launched in October to “educate the Muslim Community of Wisconsin and its allies in civics, democracy, and related issues, and to encourage participation in the electoral process,” its mission statement says. The Milwaukee County candidate meet-and-greet was its first event. A similar event will be held Thursday, Jan. 23, from 6 – 8 p.m., at the Masjid Al-Noor in Brookfield for the Waukesha County community.

“We are delighted with the strong turnout and the wonderful atmosphere of ideas being exchanged, along with laughter and good food by Aladdins,” said WMCA Executive Director Kristin Hansen in an interview following the event. “We are happy so many candidates came. And they didn’t just make an appearance; they stayed and engaged.

“The candidates are willing to come and meet with voters,” she added. “You just have to ask.”

In a brief pause in the conversations, Najeeb welcomed everyone, asking the candidates to briefly introduce himself or herself and what seat they were running for. Many Muslim leaders were present, including Dr. Zulfiqar Shah, the religious director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, ISM board President Dr. Iftekhar Khan and the Milwaukee Islamic Da’wah Center Executive Director Will Perry, who is also the president of the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance.

“We want the leaders of our community and the candidates to be able to put names to faces,” Najeeb said. “We feel this is a crucial election year. Many young Muslims are excited to get involved. We have very energized and enthusiastic voters.”

For more information on the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance or how to get involved, please click here.

A chance to be heard

At the WMCA event, the Muslim community had the chance to engage with candidates at all levels of power and experience. Candidates and community members alike commented on the importance of this opportunity.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who is running for Milwaukee County Executive in the spring elections, said the event is important because “it’s crucial for the Muslim community to step up and be loud about the political power it has. Too often, Muslims have been the scapegoats. It’s time for them to ask the politicians where they stand.”

Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb, also a candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, said, “Everyone is very welcoming and asks good questions. And I found out there is a big Muslim community in Franklin and Oak Creek.”

“This event serves to educate the candidates,” Milwaukee mayoral candidate Lena Taylor observed. “Look at the diversity in this room – ages, races, levels of government. It is important that this is happening. We need the Muslim community.”

An opportunity to engage

Judge Joe Donald, who was appointed by Gov. Tony Evers in September to fill a vacant seat on the Wisconsin District 1 Court of Appeals in Milwaukee, said, “As a judge, I see that it is important for citizens to understand how they can have a voice. One opportunity they should value is jury service. It is a chance to see how our judicial system works, to be engaged and involved. If you get that jury summons, remember that your voice matters. It is important to be at the table.”

Candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone, said he is glad the WMCA “is working so hard to build bridges,” bringing people together to work on common issues. “We always hear about unlawful immigration in the news. What we don’t hear about is how under the current administration, all sorts of barriers are being put in place for legal immigration.

“If you don’t have an informed voting base, nothing else works,” he added.

Hansen observed “some teenagers who were probably dragged here by their parents. I saw the transformation. By the end of the night, they were having great conversations with the candidates and asking about how they could get involved in their campaigns.”

Perry wrote in the WMCA WhatsApp chat: “I think we are really on to something. I am really encouraged with the involvement of our young people. Let’s continue to support them and showcase their participation.”

“Last night’s WMCA event at IRC was pretty historic,” Naheed Arshad of Mequon commented in the chat.

The WMCA hopes to recruit thousands of Muslim voters not only in Milwaukee, but across the state, Hansen said.