We Need More American Muslims in Public Life | Opinion

Senator Kamala Harris made history on Wednesday night by becoming the first Black woman and first Asian American to formally accept a major party's vice presidential nomination.

As the son of immigrants, and a person of color myself, her candidacy excites and inspires me. It portends a sea change in American politics, as well as a return to the recognition by the founders that we are, at our core, a nation of immigrants.

But it also leads me to think about areas of representation that have not yet been realized. For I am also an American Muslim. I share a concern that lines up with our urgent national conversation about diversity in public life: It's time for American Muslims to be considered commensurate to our contributions.

American Muslims are, despite our relatively small numbers, an extraordinarily diverse community. And an energetic one. Muslims are actively serving American society in fields such as health care, education, arts and culture, finance and technology, as well as public service. At the local level, more and more Muslims have been running for office in recent years.

Regrettably, though, this has not translated into adequate representation at the policy level, domestic or foreign. American policy has not benefited from American Muslims' wealth of experience or knowledge. This has not even been the case when American Muslims were an obvious choice to contribute.

Under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a handful of American Muslims were appointed to key positions. A few were ambassadors, some were analysts, and many were interpreters. But when it came to shaping pivotal policies toward Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, Turkey or Yemen, among other priorities, few of the American Muslims who possessed relevant expertise were in a position to offer policy guidance.

As a result, instead of cultivating economic and social prosperity, achieving political stability or supporting good governance, we ended up with or extended occupation, dictatorship, civil strife, weak central governance and even outright war. Years of poor policy, from conception to execution, have drained American resources, cost us in lives and treasure, weakened our global position and empowered our rivals.

This has to change, and if former Vice President Joe Biden continues to engage minorities, including Muslim communities, I believe it can.

Last month, Biden spoke at the Million Muslim Votes Summit co-organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He made a direct appeal to America's Muslim communities to stay engaged in the political process, underscored the critical importance of Muslim voters in swing states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, embraced many causes American Muslims passionately support and confronted President Donald Trump's discriminatory policies.

I was especially grateful Biden drew attention to the "unconscionable rise in Islamophobia" in our country, and I appreciated that he pledged to work with Congress "to pass hate crimes legislation." He also promised to repeal Trump's travel ban targeting Muslim-majority and African countries "on day one" of his administration.

A Biden victory would herald an opportunity to not just reverse the damage done to America by the Trump administration, but also build a nation where no one is left behind. And a Biden victory would give us hope that Americans will once again be able to work together, across differences, in a way that can enrich the art of governance and contribute to better, fairer policy-making.

Muslim Ban Protest
Protesters are seen during a rally to protest the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries in New York City on January 29, 2017, in New York City. Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty

To assist in this enterprise, and to hold the former vice president to his commitment to immediately address issues of concern to our community, the Muslim Public Affairs Council has launched an initiative to find qualified and dedicated American Muslims who can serve in policy-making positions in government.

It is vital that this initiative be as robust as possible, and therefore we are bringing together candidates from across the American Muslim spectrum, and particularly from African American communities, who have been underrepresented despite their importance within Muslim communities.

This initiative is guided by the principle that American Muslim concerns are American concerns—because American Muslims are, of course, Americans. And like all Americans, we have a role to play in restoring and reviving our country.

Because, as Biden says, "it's not sufficient to build back. We have to build back better."

Salam Al-Marayati is president and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C. He has spoken at the White House and Capitol Hill, and he represented the United States at international human rights and religious freedom conferences. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.