Anwer Hasan got involved in politics after the 2001 terrorist attacks, a time of tension for many Muslim Americans.
"The rhetoric that was coming out against Muslims at that time, that was the reason for us to get organized and start working to tell people who we are," said Hasan, a 55-year-old Howard County resident who is serving as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention this week.
"Everything was negative."
And so Hasan organized volunteer activities, charity drives and other events in an effort to introduce his faith to others. Eleven years later, Hasan said, the effort has largely paid off. Not only do Muslims have a more positive, visible presence in the state, but they are also increasingly courted by political candidates.
There are about 100 Muslims representing states this week in Charlotte, he said. Many of them will gather for a caucus on Thursday.
Born in Pakistan, Hasan immigrated to the U.S. in 1981. After founding the Howard County Muslim Council, he began meeting with statewide leaders about the issues facing his community. A consultant, Hasan now serves on the governor's Commission on Middle Eastern Affairs.
He is also chair of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and has worked on transition teams for Gov. Martin O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Religion remains a touchy issue in national politics. President Barack Obama has had to debunk conspiracy theories that he is Muslim. And that has put the president in an awkward position of having to disassociate himself from a region that, by some estimates, has several million adherents in the U.S.
Hasan said he believes religion shouldn't play much into the national political discourse. The same goes for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, he argued. Romney's Mormon faith has frequently come up as an issue this election year.
"Why do we even bring it into the conversation?" Hasan asked. "To me, it is really a bad situation when we, in this time, still have not gotten over those types of petty things."
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