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Can Muslim Lawmakers Truly Help American Muslims?

“I would much rather have a white Christian judge with progressive values … It’s not enough that he is Muslim. In fact, it’s insulting.”

In June 2021, the US Senate confirmed Judge Zahid Quraishi’s appointment to the US District Court for New Jersey, making him the first Muslim federal judge in American history. 

At the end of July 2021, U.S President Joe Biden also nominated attorney Rashad Hussain as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Hussain is the first Muslim to be nominated for this important position. The White House said in a statement that the announcement underscores the President’s commitment to build an Administration that looks like America and reflects people of all faiths.” 

Saeed Khan, an expert on American Muslim communities at Wayne State University states: “Rashad’s appointment demonstrates not only the importance the Biden administration places on religious freedom, it also shows the importance of the Muslim world to the administration both in terms of combatting Islamophobia and also promoting religious freedom in Muslim majority countries. Rashad’s background will allow him to have a frank discussion with Muslim majority countries about religious freedom.”

Islamophobia, hate crime, and discrimination against Muslims has increased ever since the 9/11 attacks. Former President Donald Trump used anti-Muslim sentiment during the 2016 elections as a dangerous tactic to secure votes, and after Trump was elected, he signed an executive order in 2017 which banned immigration from several Muslim-majority countries to further marginalise America’s existing Muslim community. 

So has Quraishi’s new role in particular created renewed optimism amongst American Muslims? 

In April 2021, The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed concerns about Quraishi:

“CAIR remains concerned about the lack of clarity over Judge Quraishi’s past professional experiences in serving with the army in providing legal advice about detentions in Iraq during a time of US military abuse and his tenure at Ice during the last year of the Bush administration,” Cair’s government affairs department director, Robert McCaw, told the Guardian. He continued:

“Neither Judge Quraishi, the White House, or Congress addressed these prior work experiences nor did they publicly vet him on them. CAIR continues to call on Quraishi to clarify his past professional experiences and in the meantime, we expect him to fulfill the duties of a judge by upholding the rights of all American citizens, including Muslims.”

Zahra Billoo, a civil rights lawyer and the executive director for CAIR has also said: “Just because somebody is a Muslim doesn’t mean that they automatically get our endorsement.” According to Slate.com, several lawyers and advocates have said the nomination process excluded Muslim organisations committed to civil rights.

In addition, Biiloo has stated, “I would much rather have a white Christian judge with progressive values … It’s not enough that he is Muslim. In fact, it’s insulting.”

Muslim lawmakers must address the issue of Islamophobia. Representative Ilhan Omar, (who is arguably one of the most prominent American Muslim lawmakers) signed a letter in July 2021 with 24 other lawmakers, citing the spike in Islamophobic violence seen in recent years and “persecution of Muslims manifesting itself around the world.”

Omar is currently urging U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat Islamophobia.

For years politicians, academics, organisations, celebrities, and media have reiterated to the American public: Muslims pose a threat to their country’s culture, religious identity, and laws. And during this harmful process, many forget that Muslims are also law-abiding American citizens. 

So it should be celebrated that Muslims are upholding prominent roles within politics but tokenism must be avoided at all costs. Lawmakers must have a demonstrated history and commitment to maintaining human rights and justice for innocent American Muslims.

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