As an American Muslim, I have worked steadfastly in support of the needs of my people, specifically communities of color, women and girls, and faith-based communities. For over 15 years, I have advocated for the civil liberties of American Muslims.

The exemplary work that organizations like the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Emgage are doing is vital to enhance the nation’s understanding of Islam.

I understand that you must “meet people where they are” and “speak truth to power” in a language understood by the communities you seek to serve.

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There is a tradition in our faith that teaches us that to truly know a person you must break bread with them, pray, travel and/or do business with them. I have done all of those activities with my Muslim sisters and brothers across the nation, near and far, from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco to Guinea, Senegal, the Caribbean islands and more.

We must be about making sure the right citizens get the message and then build bridges with like-minded folks. It’s happening but at a snail’s pace. It needs to be expedited. This all means that Muslims, from all backgrounds, need to learn how to share resources.

Black communities have the wherewithal, history, human resources and knowledge of how things work in the U.S., but we lack the abundant resources so many have been afforded the opportunity to pursue at our expense. Conversely, other communities have resources but are still learning how to navigate government and American society. We must come together. Only then can we make an impactful difference.

I say to my sisters and brothers with humility and all due respect, American Muslims are never going to become as powerful and impactful as we can be until our communities learn to better work together. This is a fact. I submit to you that we have a lot of work to do.

I have found that oftentimes it is our internal barriers that preclude us from stepping forward together into our excellence as one community, unified to make this country and this world a better place.

Establishing strong alliances and partnering not only religiously but also culturally, politically and economically is needed to grow and sustain prosperous communities.

We must increase our participation in voting and civic engagement. We must establish a Muslim voting bloc and get our people elected to public office. We must hold our elected leaders accountable. By working together, we become a powerful community both locally and nationally to maybe even swing elections.

We must continue to advocate and influence policy and legislation that supports the unique needs of all underserved communities, which certainly include communities of color. The needs of Black Muslim communities are synonymous with the needs across all the urban communities in America. We should be leading the conversations about poverty, housing, food security, education, access to health care, economic opportunity, and social and criminal justice reform along with addressing Islamophobia, the Muslim ban and immigration.

African-American Muslims have always been here. We have been major contributors in this nation since its inception. Many of our ancestors practiced Islam in West Africa before they were enslaved and brought to this nation. Along with them came our common faith. This is a historical fact.

I have said often that the silencing of Islam from the historical narrative of Africans, Afro descendants and Black Muslims in America today is irresponsible and dangerous. This is especially troubling since it was the Black struggle for freedom in America that opened up its borders to our brothers and sisters from abroad. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guaranteed equal treatment in society to African Americans, directly led to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that vastly expanded immigration to America from Muslim-majority countries.

As we are all seeking to secure the best that our nation has to offer, it is imperative that we work together in the 2020 presidential election and beyond. We must unify as a community and work together to make our nation and this world a better place.

Philadelphia is a city of firsts. Our commonwealth, the birthplace of this nation, was founded upon principles of religious acceptance and inclusion. Pennsylvania is the only state in our nation that has elected eight Black Muslim politicians. At every level of government in this city and state, we have representation of an American Muslim who is active in the local Muslim community. That is not an easy feat in a GOP-controlled swing state. We must leverage these strategic gains as a community.

May we continue to assist each other, and all of humanity, as we approach peace and prosperity. May we continue to resist any and all manifestations of bigotry and hate, which threatens our worthy aspirations and divides us as a community and nation.

Salima Suswell is an American Muslim leader and entrepreneur. She is a member of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.

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