By Brenda Flanagan
At New Jersey’s largest mosque, as the faithful meet for midday prayers, Rutgers grad Nouran Shehata pauses first for a little social media action. She’s on a political mission to register as many voters as possible, spurred to action by Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“Bill O’Reilly asked me, ‘Is there a Muslim problem?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely, yes!’ I want surveillance of certain mosques, OK,” Trump said.
“Like in the beginning, we were like, ‘Oh, he’s a minor threat, never going to make it.’ When he started gaining traction, we were like, ‘We need to do something,'” Shehata said.
The former Bernie Sanders supporter is targeting young voters, like herself.
“If you just, like, decide not to vote, in protest, that’s not going to help. Not in this election. Not when somebody like Donald Trump is running,” she said.
“The community and individual level are more galvanized, no doubt about it,” said Arif Patel.
Patel’s president of the mosque — the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in Monmouth Junction. On holy days, 5,000 can congregate here to pray. Patel emphasizes the mosque does not endorse candidates or advise members how to vote. But they are conducting voter registration drives.
“Not only in this community, as Islamic Society of Central Jersey, but actually all Muslim organizations throughout the state have come together and have formed a coalition to ensure that we are registering everyone that is eligible to vote,” he said.
Patel says the community’s fighting back against Islamophobia. After the massacre at Pulse, one mosque member flew to Orlando to donate blood. He estimates New Jersey’s Muslim voting bloc could be 100,000 strong. But Patel wants to forge a broader coalition.
“We can’t do it alone. We are going to need the help of the African-American community, we’re going to need the help of the women and we’re going to need to help of the LGBT community, and all the minority groups,” Patel said.
“I will not be voting for Donald Trump. I will cannot support his racist comments,” said Azra Baig.
Baig’s a member of the mosque and of South Brunswick’s school board. She says to vote is to have a voice.
“Basically, trying to motivate others to go out, register to vote and vote on Election Day,” she said.
“Regardless of the candidate, we as Muslims, as a community know that we have to be engaged in this process,” Patel said.
Patel advises the Muslim community here to fight Islamophobia by setting a sterling example. He says donate, volunteer and definitely vote.