Inside America |
An Islamic political party in America
In the late 1980s, when 37-year old Jabril Hough was a Methodist who attended church every Sunday, he began having religious doubts about Christianity's Holy Trinity and the worship of Jesus as the Son of God. "I searched for an authentic Christian Bible that had not been altered or tampered with, but couldn't find one," Hough recalled.
Then after the Gulf War broke out in 1991, Hough became aware of Islam and began studying the religion. "Islam's monotheism began making sense to me," Hough said. "The religion says God is one and he has no partners, parents, sons or daughters."
Today, Hough, one of approximately 4.5 to five million Muslims in the US, is chairman of the national board of the Islamic Political Party of America (IPPA), the country's first and only Islamic political party. With about 4,000 members and chapters in 12 states, the IPPA seeks to encourage Muslim Americans to become more involved politically.
"We (Muslim Americans) need to organise politically because we are living in the most dangerous period in our history," said Ali Abdur-Rashid, the IPPA's national coordinator and one of the party's three co-founders. "Muslim Americans are scared. We know what happened to the Japanese during World War II, and we don't want that to happen to us." The party was founded in April 2001, five months prior to 9-11, but IPPA officials said that Muslim Americans were facing serious problems like religious profiling and hate
crimes long before the event happened. "The U.S. government was putting Muslims in prison on the basis of a secret evidence law," Abdur-Rashid said. "Remember that famous case of al-Najjir? He was put in prison for several years and the government didn't even have to explain why."
The US government arrested Mazen al-Najjir, a former University of South Florida professor, in 1977 on charges of overstaying his visa and having ties to terrorist organisations. Al-Najjir was released in December 2000, only to
be arrested again in November 2001 and then deported in August 2002.
IPPA officials said none of the political parties have taken the Muslim American community seriously. "When it comes to Muslim Americas, there is no balance in American politics," Hough said. "Look at that first presidential debate between Kerry and Hough. They both talked about the War on Terrorism and Iraq being about ensuring Israel's security."
The IPPA is not endorsing any political candidate for president, but it's encouraging its members to vote their conscience in this year's elections. A statement by the party at its National Platform Conference Meeting held in Lynchburg, Virginia, last August 14 stated that "its members have been focusing on securing IPPA as a legitimate entity and carefully
securing IPPA's foundation, resulting in most party members lacking the time or energy to caucus with any of the presidential candidates."
The conference discussed such issues as educational system reform, "stopping the national tax rate" and the importance of equality in health care.. Conference representatives agreed to establish a national platform that would "provide the backbone to the core of the IPPA ideology and position in the hopes of becoming a benefit for all the people of America, not just the Islamic population."
Hough acknowledges that the IPPA is concerned about the plight of the Palestinians, but he added that the party is focused on domestic issues. Abdur-Rashid said that anyone can join the party, so long as they "believe in one God, Allah, and follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammed." The party hopes to build alliances with non-Muslim political groups, he said. "We will work with a non-Muslim group so long as they agree with our principles."
The party is also working hard to embrace both traditional Muslims and what officials identify as "indigenous Muslims," or African
American Muslims. "At the moment, IPPA's Charlotte chapter has about 100 members, but at least 10,000 traditional and indigenous Muslims are living in the city," Hough revealed. "Could you imagine what kind of impact we Muslims would have at the local level if we are organised as a group."
Abdur-Rashid noted that Brooklyn, New York, is about 98 percent African American, 30 percent of whom are Muslim. "We have the numbers that can give us more control over our lives," he said.
The IPPA also has a social action programme called the Ma'un Society, which is made up of volunteers who work in their communities in the areas of health care, crime prevention, family counseling and special services. The volunteers direct people to the source that can help them with their problems. The society also provides communities with drug interdiction, prenatal care and cholesterol and blood pressure screening services. "The Ma'un society is IPPA's way of bringing our people together for the common good," Abdur-Rashid explained.
Party officials are excited about the party's potential to play a seminal role both in the Muslim American community and national, state and local politics. But they plan to move slowly to build a base and ensure the party as a viable political entity. At their National Platform Conference, some party officials talked about running a candidate for President in the 2008 elections."
"It's a possibility," revealed Hough, who added "We are making rapid progress, and we don't need millions of members to continue doing that."
Ron Chepesiuk is a Visiting Professor of Journalism at Chittagong University and Research Associate with the National Defence College in Dhaka.