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Wisconsin Muslims Weigh Words From Presidential Campaigns

A Superior Muslim Family Considers Their Future Under Party Nominees

Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Ibrahim Al-Qudah – Abe to his friends – doesn’t track the presidential campaigns that closely. In fact, he didn’t watch the last presidential debate. As a father of four, he’s more worried about getting his kids to school on time, studying for school and keeping on top of the invoices he reviews as a civil engineer for the city of Superior.

“I get zero sleep sometimes, not always and not frequently, but a lot of times four to six hours. That’s not bad, I guess. I don’t know,” Al-Qudah laughed. “With four kids and all of this stuff, it’s not bad.”

On his desk next to the computer rests a picture of his twins, Laith and Balqis, shortly after they were born. They turned 5 years old in August, and his youngest, Jude, will turn 3 years old in December. Jude keeps him awake at nights, along with the kitchen he’s trying to remodel in his spare time that doesn’t exist. Al-Qudah said he didn’t get much sleep on a recent night because he was installing flooring in the kitchen of his new home.

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Abe Al-Qudah holds his two year-old daughter, Jude, before sitting down to dinner. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

“I was working on the staining the cabinets,” he said. “There’s the basement that needs to be waterproofed and that is really a big project.”

Besides home, work and school, Al-Qudah is also president of the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports. He leads Friday afternoon prayers, joined by his children and wife, Beth Al-Qudah.

Beth is a full-time nursing student while taking care of their four children. The family’s oldest daughter, Dakota, hasn’t yet turned 12. But, Beth worries about her during this presidential election, especially when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump visited Superior in April.

“My daughter who is in middle school … I was a little nervous,” she said. “She wears a scarf, so she’s very noticeably Muslim. I was worried that somebody would maybe say something to her or single her out.”

Terrorist acts by the Islamic State group, fears over national security and fiery political rhetoric have thrust American Muslims in the spotlight of the 2016 presidential election.

Even at age 5, Beth sees her son, Laith, shying away from anything identifying them as followers of Islam.

“I don’t know if he sees it as Muslim or Arab or different or what it is, but he definitely understands the concept already that he should fit into what everybody else’s concept is,” she said.

At the Islamic Center in Duluth, Abe Al-Qudah leads the prayers since smaller Muslim communities don’t have an Imam or Muslim leader. He said some people seem to have a generalized view of Muslims.

“Typically, when you say this, people picture someone who doesn’t like the country, who’s a terrorist, who could just harm other people, etc.,” he said. “But, that’s not the truth.”

Beth Al-Qudah said they’re just like any other religious family in America.

Beth Al-Qudah with one of her daughters. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

“We go through phases where we’re really good. We pray our five times a day. We’re super religious. We start to learn Qu’ran. Then, we go through phases where we didn’t do anything this year,” she said. “We’re like everybody else. Sometimes we’re like the Catholics who only go to Christmas Mass.”

But, the fear of a religious test or registry when Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” is a big reason why they’re voting for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump has since said the Muslim ban has morphed into “extreme vetting” of certain nations.

Still, even Clinton has drawn criticism from some Muslims. In the presidential debates, Clinton has said, “We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines.”

Some Muslims say that rhetoric reinforces Americans’ association of Muslims with national security concerns. Beth Al-Qudah isn’t one of them, but she admits Clinton wasn’t her first choice.

“I would rather be on the front line than have to register,” she said. “Again, it’s just the lesser of two evils.”

Like many parents, Abe Al-Qudah said they just want a better future for their children.

“That they don’t have to spend so much work and time and energy and stress over this, really, nonsense when they could just pursue their dreams and just do whatever they want to do in this life and be happy,” he said.

He just wants them to have a chance to realize the American dream.