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Muslim candidates score historic victories nationwide

Muslim Americans won in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York.

By Josh Axelrod - November 04, 2021
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Shahana Hanif

Tuesday was a night of historic victories for Muslim Americans running for elected office.

From the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council to victories in cities where Muslims make up half of the population, representation won big at the ballot box.

Mohammed Missouri, the executive director of Jetpac, a nonprofit that trains Muslim Americans to run for public office, said Muslim American candidates across the country are “a new generation of community leaders who are building power a little bit differently.”

Missouri said Tuesday’s victories are proof that grassroots organizing in local elections works: “It’s slowly building a bench of political talent. That for me is super exciting.”

This trend was especially pronounced in Michigan, where Muslim candidates won mayoral elections in the cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, and Hamtramck.

In 2018, more than 100 Muslim Americans ran for office. In that cycle, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) became the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

Meet the 2021 class of Muslim American elected officials.

Shahana Hanif

Hanif became the first Muslim woman to be elected to the New York City Council. A community organizer and former New York City Council employee, she said she plans to represent her Brooklyn district as a proud progressive.

Hanif will also be the first woman to represent her district, which includes the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Kensington. New York City is home to more than 769,000 Muslims.

She and Shekar Krishnan also made history as the first two Americans of South Asian descent to be elected to the city council. Hanif is a Bangladeshi American, and Krishnan is an Indian American.

“We are building an anti-racist, feminist city,” Hanif tweeted on Tuesday night. “We deserve a city that guarantees equitable education, invests in climate solutions, and makes our immigrant neighbors heard and safe. I’m ready to move our city forward in service of our progressive vision every day.”

Hanif’s win was “beautiful to see,” Tlaib tweeted.

Tania Fernandes Anderson

Anderson defeated Roy Owens, a minister who repeatedly stoked Islamophobic fears against his opponent, to become Boston’s first Muslim American city council member.

Anderson’s family emigrated to Boston from Cape Verde when she was 10 years old. She will also be the first African immigrant and first formerly undocumented person to serve on the Boston City Council.

Anderson is currently the executive director of Bowdoin Geneva Main Streets, a nonprofit that helps people of color who own small businesses.

She will represent the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and parts of Boston’s South End.

Etel Haxhiaj

Haxhiaj was elected the first Muslim to serve on the Worcester City Council in Massachusetts. She will also be the state’s first Albanian-born official and the first woman to hold her seat.

Haxhiaj came to America in 2001 as a refugee, having fled Albania amid a political crisis. She first ran for city council in 2019 and lost by 700 votes.

Azrin Awal

Awal, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, will be the first Muslim American and first Asian American member of the Duluth City Council in Minnesota.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Awal ran a grassroots campaign by mobilizing her community’s student population.

“It feels exhilarating,” Awal said. “I recognize the privilege and the honor that comes with that. It makes me want to ground myself with my community even more as we go forward and make positive change.”

Shama Haider

On Tuesday, Haider, 72, became the first Muslim American to be elected to the New Jersey Legislature.

Haider will represent New Jersey’s 37th General Assembly District, which includes parts of Bergen County in northern New Jersey. Haider previously served as a member of the council of Tenafly, a town in northern New Jersey across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Haider emigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1977. While she was in college in Pakistan, Haider protested the country’s military dictatorship. She went on to serve as secretary to Begum Nusrat Bhutto, the spouse of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Abdullah Hammoud

Michigan state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud will be the first Muslim American mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, a city with one of the country’s largest Muslim populations.

Hammoud, 31, descends from working-class Lebanese immigrants. He was first elected to Michigan’s House of Representatives at age 26.

“To the young girls and boys who have ever been ridiculed for their faith or ethnicity, to those of you who were ever made to feel that their names were unwelcome, and to our parents and to our elders and to others who were humiliated for their broken English and yet still persisted, today is proof that you are as American as anyone else,” Hammoud said on Tuesday. “There is a new era in Dearborn.”

Amer Ghalib

Ghalib, a health care professional, ousted a 16-year incumbent to become the mayor of Hamtramck, Michigan, which is reportedly the first Muslim-majority city in the United States.

Ghalib, 42, emigrated to the United States from Yemen when he was 17 years old.

Ghalib defeated incumbent Mayor Karen Majewski to become the first Muslim and Arab American mayor of Hamtramck, which is north of Detroit. He will also be the city’s first non-Polish American mayor in 100 years, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Bill Bazzi

Bazzi has served as mayor of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, since January. He was appointed interim mayor by the city council after his predecessor died of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Bazzi officially won election to become the city’s first elected Muslim and Arab American mayor. Bazzi was born in Lebanon.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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