A Muslim at the RNC

Saba Ahmed at the RNC 2016. copyright Saba Ahmed

A Muslim at the RNC

The Republican National Convention is a crucial moment in every election cycle. The Convention, held in Cleveland this year, sees thousands of Republican delegates amass to officially nominate a candidate to represent the party in the presidential election, and determine the party’s official platform. This convention marks the official end to the primary season, and the beginning of the general campaign, where the Republican candidate squares off with the Democrat.

The convention began on Monday, and will continue until Thursday night. Donald Trump was selected as the candidate months ago, so this aspect of the convention is already concluded. Yet determining the party’s platform will be a heated task, as a divided Republican party will need to find some way to come together to have a chance of defeating the Democrats.

The president and founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, Saba Ahmed, is at the convention, watching it all unfold. The Islamic Monthly will be speaking with her each morning over the next few days to get a recap of what happened the night before, and hear her prescient analysis, informed by years of experience within the Party. Ahmed also provided The Islamic Monthly with analysis throughout the primaries, which may be useful as context for what is going down this week.

Saba Ahmed at the RNC 2016. copyright Saba Ahmed

Saba Ahmed at the RNC 2016. copyright Saba Ahmed

Stay tuned as we bring you daily coverage of what is sure to be a turning point in this tumultuous and historic election cycle.

July 21

Listen to the interview here or read below.

TIM: Last night was the final night of the RNC. Can you let our readers know what happened?

SA: It was an amazing experience being at the RNC, and watching live as Donald Trump accepted the nomination. Yesterday was just full of different events for us. I got a chance to meet with Mike Pence, and Donald Trump, which was really amazing. I just felt that the whole party was uniting for him. They seemed to be on track. I think they’re going to win in November.

TIM: What was the meeting with Trump and Pence like?

Image-3 (1)SA: It was good. They were happy to see Muslims in the audience. I also connected with Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and I spoke with Mike Pence as well. Yesterday I met with several elected officials. I got a chance to speak with Congressman Peter King, I talked to Senator Tom Cotton, and a lot of the big names in the Republican Party that I feared and used to think had really negative views of Muslims. It was fascinating talking to them in person, and just telling them that there are lots of peaceful Muslims and they need to hear from us. They were extremely gracious, and they understood the national security threat and how we need to all work together to combat terrorism.

TIM: Would you say they were receptive to what you told them?

SA: Yes, definitely! They listened to me, and agreed with me. They agreed that more Muslims should help out, because they’re all struggling with radicals and extremism, they all want to see a safer America. At the end of the day I even met with Newt Gingrich, and got another photo with him and his wife. We just ended the convention on a good note. I felt like we made a lot of really good progress at the convention, talking to these people. It was really interesting because I used to wear Congressman Peter King and Senator Tom Cotton, and I had an image of them that they somehow hate all Muslims. But when I got a chance to talk with them and meet with them they were really nice, and they wanted to ensure I was well here. Being one of the only Muslims here, they were all very, very nice to me.

TIM: What sort of things did you tell them?

SA: The way I met these people was through the RNC. I was one of the top RNC donors, so I think they understood that these were good circles, and we had other folks there as well. One of the things that really surprised me yesterday was that I got to me with the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, and he is a big businessman from Chicago. He donated almost a million dollars the day before, and from his perspective the only reason he was supporting Trump was because he’s so anti-Muslim. He was supportive of profiling Muslims, and he was talking about how he wants to enact policies against Pakistan. For me it was interesting to see the special interests working against Muslims. I tried to be nice to them. I took pictures with their family and went to their suite. It was really, really interesting. It was a great, great learning experience to see how politics work, how insiders influence policy making, how a person becomes a Republican president.

TIM: Donald Trumps’ acceptance speech was the longest recorded one since at least 1972. What did you make of it?

SA: I thought it was fabulous. He really went into substantive policy areas. A lot of people have been skeptical of what his policies may be like, but he addressed every major issue, and talked about how he will be making America great again. I thought he provided a great vision for America, and where he sees the country heading under his leadership. I think republicans will come together. We have failed democratic policies, and we don’t want those to continue through Hillary Clinton. I think Donald trump is well positioned to take her on and defeat her in September.

TIM: Do you feel more confident about the chances of winning the election now than you did before the RNC?

SA: Yes, definitely. I was very proud of the Republican leadership, and how they came together, especially because Trump was an outsider. I remember attending here around a year ago. I came to the first Fox News debate, and having 17 candidates up there, nobody though Donald trump had a shot. To see him win the nomination last night was amazing. Everyone coming to terms with it, and accepting the fact that he is going to be leading us. It was great. People were so nice and kind hearted. Most average Americans are good people, and they want to see safety, security, prosperity and they are uniting behind Donald Trump.

July 20

Listen to the interview here or read below.

TIM: Yesterday was a pretty hectic day at the RNC. Can you tell our readers what happened?

SA: Yesterday was all about making America first again. We had several speakers. The highlight was obviously the vice president Mike Pence. We got to learn all about him, and got to hear form Ted Cruz and a bunch of different republican leaders. It was kind of disappointing to not see Ted Cruz endorsing Donald Trump, because we were hoping he would unite the party. But at the same time I think Donald trump will be fine without Ted Cruz’s endorsement.

TIM: Can you tell us more about why you think Cruz didn’t endorse Trump, and what the reaction was like when people realized the endorsement wasn’t going to come?

SA: It was fascinating because the whole convention was supposed to be supportive of Donald Trump, and all the speakers were trying to energize supporters about him and endorse him. Before Ted Cruz we heard form Chris Christie and other republican leaders who were very enthusiastic about trump, from Governor Rick Scott and others.

Ted Cruz started off great. He had a very emotional story about the Dallas police officers. But by the end of the speech he didn’t endorse trump, because he was the one who would have won the nomination had trump not been in the race, so I think he just decided to stay out of it. It was very disappointing to see the governor of Ohio not show up, the whole convention was going on and Ohio and governor Kasich, everyone was hoping he would show up and support all the guests of the RNC, but he didn’t come either. I think people were disappointed, but at the same time there are serious concerns in the Republican Party around Donald trump’s candidacy.

Yesterday, again, we got to hear from his friends in the entertainment industry in the casino, billionaires, about how he’s made his wealth. We got to hear from his children as well. It’s fascinating, but today I’m looking forward to hearing from people in the high tech industry, and others, about why they’re looking forward to supporting him.

TIM: Do you think Cruz failing to endorse Trump is a sign of things to come?

SA: I think it is definitely a sign. There was concern yesterday about if Donald Trump loses, what will the party do? I hope Ted Cruz wasn’t trying to set up his future campaign. But at the same time I think trump is a strong candidate, he’s a fighter and he knows how to do business. I think he’s going to be going after Hillary Clinton full force, and from yesterdays interactions with various republicans, I was confident he can win, and that they’re very confident about taking back the White House.

TIM: Yesterday Newt Gingrich gave a speech mentioning Islam and Muslims quite a bit. I’m wondering how you felt about that speech, as you said you spoke with him a couple days ago and gave him tips on how to discuss Islam?

SA: I did. At least he didn’t talk about sharia. He talked about various Muslims, and how must suffer. I was disappointed in his statistics about Pakistan, and how 9 percent of the country supports ISIS and how there are lots of radicals. I think that just tarnishes the image of Muslims. I know we have serious issues with terrorism across the globe, but I think focusing on a few countries is not the solution.

TIM: Do you feel like he incorporated any of your tips?

SA: He was very careful about how he was talking about Islam. I couldn’t tell that he obviously didn’t use the word Shariah. He was still struggling with learning Islam, and how to talk about it in a manner that won’t offend 1.7 billion Muslims.

TIM: Earlier this week you mentioned you’re going to have lunch with trump today, is that still happening?

SA: Yes! I look forward to seeing him today at noon. We are meeting with Donald trump and governor mike pence. It’s the strength and unity lunch for RNC guests. I think it’s a great opportunity for Muslims to get involved. I was happy to see a lot of other Muslims here as well. I’m starting to learn there’s quite a bit of support for Donald Trump in our community.

TIM: Do you have anything planned for the conversation, or is it more casual and informal?

SA: It’s a casual meeting, but I do want to follow up because we had invited him to a mosque. I do want to see Donald Trump visit the Muslim community at some point during his campaign. We’ll be talking about that, and if he’s interested.

TIM: What’s on the schedule for the last day?

SA: Today is the final night of the nomination. Donald Trump will formally be speaking and accepting the nomination of the Republican Party. I think everyone is looking forward to his speech tonight, and we’re all excited to see how he will make America great again.

July 19

The second day of the RNC featured focused on economic issues, with a theme of “Make America Work Again.” Several controversial incidents occurred between the first and second days, making them quite infamous.  Here’s what Saba Ahmed had to say about the first day.  Listen here or read below.

TIM: Can you give our listeners a brief summary of what happened on the second day of the convention?

SA: Yesterday we had the second day of the GOP convention. The theme was around making America work again. So a lot of people talked about how to create jobs, how to do business in various different industries. We had the entertainment industry, which is Donald trump’s stronghold. I wish there was more high tech, engineers, or doctors, or other professions that were represented. But still, it was very fascinating. For me, it was a great learning experience. The night ended with a Muslim American giving a prayer. It was very nice to see that Republicans were open to hearing from Muslims.

TIM: Can you tell me more about that moment? In terms of who the man is that gave the prayer, and what group he’s from?

SA: I do know them. They’re from Maryland. He [Sajid Tarar] started a group called American Muslims for Trump. H travelled form Maryland to give the benediction, and share the prayer with republicans. He was invited because he’s on the diversity coalition for Trump I thought it was great that he got the opportunity, and sent a really positive message from our community. It was nice to see that there are Muslims who are every active within republican circles?

TIM: How much of a following does his group have? What’s the difference between his group and yours?

SA: It’s similar, but our group is supposed to be for the long term. He just started his group for this election year. They do have a following. The Muslim community shows around 11% of support for Donald Trump. Their group is trying to get those poll numbers up. He’ll be working very hard in the next few months, and I’ll be working in partnership. He’s joining our board, and he will be the coalition partner in Maryland. For the Republican Muslim Coalition, we hope to start chapters in all of the key electoral states. It’s a great way to have people who are supporting trump come out, and have the republicans reach out to us.

TIM: When he gave the prayer, someone in the crowd shouted “No Islam!” really loudly, repeatedly. Did you hear that? What was the reaction to it like?

SA: I didn’t hear it because I was father away. I was watching from upstairs. But I did read the article that said that. But the people around him shouted him down, and there were many supporters for us, and for Muslims. I felt that even though there were people who may not like us, the other voices were much louder, and welcomed us. Yesterday, I was very proud. I saw about seven Muslims there, and I felt very proud to see our faith represented. I got a chance to meet with people from the Republican Hindu Coalition, Jewish Coalition, and I felt that it was the right thing that we were there. My goal for the next convention is to take a much larger delegation.

TIM: What were those conversations like?

SA: Hindu Americans were doing a wonderful job with the Republican Hindu Coalition. Their group brought about 10 folks. My conversations revolved around how minorities need to get together and be more active in the Republican Party. We talked about how republicans were much more respectful of our religions and our views once we got involved with their groups. We had a California delegation; even from Virginia we had an Indian American leading this delegation. Hey talked about how they were putting Donald trump over the top, and all the delegates that voted for him. It was a fascinating discussion. I saw how the Republican Jewish coalition also set up their court side slate. They had a leadership slate, and a general slate, and how their members were so active within the Republican Party, and I saw why Republicans speak for various different special interests, because they are so active and have their members there every day.

Yesterday I also attended an Arab American event, the comedy show that as put on by the Arab American institute with Dean Obeidallah and a few other folks. I felt that they were just poking fun at republicans, and there wasn’t that many Arabs attending. I saw how other Jewish Americans were very well organized ands attending, and I hope that in the future we can attend, and get seats, and get all of our members to show up. If not for political interests, then for religious outreach. We should be strategic in reaching out to people across the aisle. We need to engage with both parties. We can’t afford to be partisan anymore.

TIM: What do you think of the ghost writing controversy?

SA: I’m sure it’s some speech writer who did that. I think [Trump] will get over it. I don’t think any controversy hurts him. Even bad publicity is good for him. He’s an expert at that, so I’m sure he’ll get through it.

July 18

The first day of the RNC featured several speakers, ranging from Rudy Giuliani to former Happy Days actor Scott Baio. The focus of the night was national security issues, with a theme of “Making America Safe Again.” Here’s what Saba Ahmed had to say about the first day. You can also listen to it here.

TIM: Can you give our listeners a brief summary of what happened on the first day of the convention?

SA: Yesterday was the first day of the RNC convention. We had various speakers talk about making America safe again. They were discussing how the threats from radical Islamist terrorism are hurting the country.  A lot of different speakers spoke about similar concerns.

It was fascinating for me just to attend and observe how they were talking about Muslims. There was only a handful of Muslims there, but I wished there was more Muslims there to change their mindset and to change their views.

I had a fabulous time, and I was very, very glad that at least some Muslims were here and were engaging with the Republicans.

TIM: When you say you wish there was more Muslims there to change their views, do you mean Republicans changing Muslim’s views, or the other way around?

SA:  For Muslims to change Republican’s views toward Islam and Muslims.

TIM: How would you describe the view being given throughout the night? Was it uncomfortable to be there when they were talking about radical Islam?

SA: At times it was stereotypical. But I thought Rudy Giuliani spoke very well. He defended Muslims, and spoke about how many Muslims are victims of terrorism. So, there was definitely support for our community there. I just wish there was more Muslims present. People were very surprised to see me there. I had people coming up from all over. They were just glad to see Muslims supporting Republicans. The atmosphere right now is that Americans are very scared about terrorism, and what can happen. I felt like this was calming fears, since people really want to hear from us. I think it’s important for us to get involved.

TIM: Were people coming up to you to ask you questions about Islam?

SA: They were just happy to see that there were Muslims who were supporting Donald Trump, and that as we move toward the general election, that he has broad support from various communities.

TIM: What are some of the most important points made about radical Islam?

Copyright Saba Ahmed

Copyright Saba Ahmed

SA: That’s where they need our help. I had a chance to meet with Newt Gingrich, and I had an interesting discussion about Islamic sharia. I felt like my presence there made a difference. He was asking me for advice like, ‘What kind of terminology can I use to identify terrorist or extremists. I think Republicans are struggling to come to terms with what Islam is, and how we can address the radical concerns of extremists. I felt that they’re really looking for information from our community, but we’re really not open to helping them.

TIM: What advice did you give to Newt?

SA: I just spoke generally about how, like, when he spoke about sharia and deporting all of us who believe in it that that was very offensive because Muslims are required to believe in sharia. You can’t be Muslim if you don’t believe in sharia in some way, because it governs how you pray, how you fast, how you live everyday life. It’s not something that you can just turn off. I know he was referring to some extremist elements, about stoning to death for adultery and homosexuality. There was some discussion about how extreme punishment is done in Saudi Arabia and Iran. We talked about how every country has their own interpretation of sharia. Americans are confused about what exactly is it, and when most moderate Muslims choose to be silent, and we don’t speak out, then they form their own views and they’re guided by people who aren’t exactly on the same page when it comes to being pro-Islamic.

TIM: Was Newt surprised by what you were telling him? Was this stuff he hadn’t heard before?

SA: He genuinely, really, didn’t know. I was one of the first Muslims he was having this discussion with, openly and frankly. I spoke with his staff as well. He connected me with his staff, because they wanted guidance on how to say it appropriately without offending Muslims, and they were struggling with that as well. He did face a backlash after he made his comments, and he was trying to understand how you talk about radicals and extremists without offending the general mass of Muslims.

TIM: Would you say it’s important for these politicians to have Muslim advisors in the future?

SA: Exactly. But I don’t think there are that many Muslims who are willing to engage with Republicans. I was surprised to be one of the only Muslim women there. I was sitting in the RNC lounge. For me it was a great experience because I was a guest of the RNC, and they welcomed me. I am one of their donors, so they treated me very well. There were some republicans who were surprised to see Muslims there. I saw a lot of Jewish people there. I saw a lot of Christian pastors. I saw a lot of faith groups. And I felt like there was no Islamic faith group there to represent us, even though we share a lot of conservative values with them. We’re very much pro-life and pro-traditional family values. Things that are community cares about really align with the Republican Party, but we haven’t been very active with them, so they have negative views of us.

But at the same time, I hope that going forward we will get more involved. It was a great learning experience for me. Meeting with elected officials, meeting with Reince Priebus and general Republicans. I feel like it was a great convention, and we’re off to a great first day. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and beyond. I will be having lunch with Donald Trump on Thursday, so I’m very excited about that as well. Hopefully we’ll talk about the Muslim ban, and some of his other unconstitutional ideas. Hopefully we can make a difference.

TIM: That sounds fascinating. What is going to happen today?

SA: Today is ore about economic policies, and how they’ll be helping America become more prosperous and secure. I think we have various different speakers coming up.  

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