Houston, Texas (Blog of Sister Wardah Khalid): I am so not a morning person. So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to rub the sleep from my eyes at 4:15 AM last week so I could board a charter bus to Austin. It was for a worthy cause, though, so I dragged myself out of bed and got ready to join other Houston area Muslims (and a few non-Muslims) on a trip to our capitol for â€œTexas Muslim Capitol Day.â€
The event was organized by the Texas chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to encourage civic participation among Muslims and show our representatives in Austin that we DO care about local and national issues. Like their fellow citizens, many Muslims donâ€™t keep abreast of local politics, let alone vote, so this was a prime opportunity to change that. Representatives from the Houston Peace and Justice Center (HPJC) and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) joined us on our journey.
Once on our way, CAIR provided participants with summaries of bills of interest, including HB 274, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry today. The bill originally included an amendment introduced by Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) banning â€œforeign lawâ€ (including Jewish and Islamic law â€“ a.k.a. Shariah) in Texas. Thankfully, it was eventually shot down by the Senate. The ever relentless Berman, however, has since attached his amendment to HB 1717 in hopes that it will finally pass into law. Will someone please tell the Mr. Berman to quit wasting his time and our money on this, as there is no way foreign law can be applied in the U.S. due to our separation between church and state? But that is a story for another day.
Other bills discussed included SB 9 (now SB 12) and SB 11. These are immigration reform bills similar to the ones passed in Arizona asking law enforcement to adopt the Secure Communities program and essentially serve as immigration officers. This of course would require them to reallocate resources from their current duties, such as responding to 9-1-1 calls, keeping our roads safe, and fighting crime.
Upon our arrival in Austin, we met up with other Muslims who had arrived from other cities, including San Antonio and Dallas. We also heard from representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as well as some Senators and Representatives. All emphasized the importance of civic participation.
One of the most interesting parts of our morning was listening in on the proceedings in the Texas House of Representatives. Since it was near the end of the session, there werenâ€™t any hot and heavy debates (just a lot of self congratulation) but it was still worth a look. After lunch and prayers, we had a chance to visit the offices of several Senators and Representatives to discuss our concerns.
All in all, it was an enlightening visit that proved my government teachers right â€“ we CAN accomplish great things if we come together! Yes, these are our representatives, but it is our civic duty to keep up with current affairs and speak up if we donâ€™t agree with what is going on in Austin. Iâ€™m looking forward to our next trip in 2013.
(Other salient participants included members of Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim American Society, Helping Hand USA, ICNA Relief, Young Muslims, and Muslim Observer, Pakistan Chronicle, & Pakistan Journal Newspapers).