Civic Responsibility and Young Muslims

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Editor-in-Chief of The Muslim Observer

Last week a teleconference organized by a young Muslim group went unnoticed in Muslim circles. Not many who attended even shared it with their own friends and groups. Not much was heard about it and probably no one ever mentioned it in any public speech.

This  tele-conference was organized by *Muslim Advocates* in partnership with *Alliance for Justice (AFJ)*. The two *released an advisory to educate American Muslim public charities and mosques about permissible and prohibited activities this election season. In recognition of active political engagement by the American Muslim community, the advisory informed mosques and other 501(c)(3) organizations about IRS limitations on election activity.

The advisory mentioned that as a general rule, a mosque or 501(c)(3) can educate the public about candidates’ views through forums, encourage individuals to vote, and engage in other nonpartisan activities. A 501(c)(3) public charity that supports or opposes candidates for public office, however, could lose its tax-exempt status and/or face taxes on its political activity. *The guidance offered by Muslim Advocates and AFJ are meant to help organizations plan and mobilize their efforts in a way that does not jeopardize their 501(c)(3) status. *

“With the IRS’s recent scrutiny of alleged partisan statements by ministers and other nonprofit leaders, Muslim Advocates wants to ensure that mosques and other American Muslim public charities are not engaging in any prohibited activity. As part of this advisory, we provide examples of activities that are permissible and are an effective mechanism for the community’s voice to be heard,” said Akil Vora, an attorney with Muslim Advocates.

Karim Hanafy, a former attorney with the IRS and now in private practice, stated, “The IRS has made it clear that it will be stepping up its efforts in vigorously enforcing the law this election season, but many charities are simply unaware or misinformed of the restrictions imposed on charities. This advisory issued by Muslim Advocates and AFJ will serve as an excellent resource in educating charities and ensuring they comply with the law.”

The initiative was taken by many young attorneys including Akil Vora, a leading voice among Muslim Advocates. Akil recently graduated from a law school and he together with other fellow Muslim attorneys deemed it his obligation to educate Muslims about this sensitive issue. In fact, this is the much needed information for Muslims as many mosque leaders are involved in electoral process without realizing the risks their centers or mosques take consequent to their action.

The Muslim Observer published the election advisory in its front page to support the efforts of Muslim Advocates. It is hoped that mosque leadership throughout the US would inform their communities about these efforts.

These young people who took the initiative in introducing a new kind of political activism must be lauded and appreciated. Depute the presence of Muslim activism in the US for almost two decades, this is the first time that such an effort was undertaken by a Muslim group. This proves the point that if our youth are brought in the position of leadership, they would alter the course of activism making it more relevant and useful for the country and the community. We hope that the contribution of Muslim advocates would increase in other spheres of Muslim public life and with the help of other young people, they would be able to create a better activist community.



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