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Country's first all-Muslim city council is elected in Michigan

“This City Council truly represents all the elements of Hamtramck history, whether they are Arabs, South Asian or European descendants,” one expert said.
Image: Detroit Free Press via USA Today Network
Amanda Jaczkowski.Kimberly P. Mitchell / Detroit Free Press via USA Today Network

A city in Michigan is apparently the first in the nation to elect an all-Muslim city council, reflecting a more racially diverse landscape in local governance.

Three candidates — Khalil Refai, Amanda Jaczkowski and Adam Albarmaki — won election to the City Council in Hamtramck last week and will be joining three current members. All six identify as Muslim.

Khalil Refai.Permission granted by Khalil Refai

Hamtramck, part of the greater Detroit area, also elected its first Muslim mayor, Amer Ghalib, to round out the city’s government.

The Muslim Public Affairs Counsel, a national American Muslim advocacy and public policy organization, said it is the first and only city that they are aware of that has a full Muslim city counsel and mayor.

The newly elected council members will begin their term in January, and the members say religion will not be a factor in how they govern, reported The Detroit Free Press.

"It’s important to remember that although we all happen to be practicing Muslims, we are elected through the processes set forth by the United States, Michigan, Wayne County and Hamtramck,” Jaczkowski said to the Free Press. "We will all take an oath ... to protect the Constitution of the United States, and that includes the concept of separation of church and state."

Adam Albarmaki.Courtesy Adam Albarmaki

Albarmaki told the Free Press, "I owe it to the people of Hamtramck, and my loyalty to them will remain intact," he said. "Make no mistake, I do not represent the interest of a certain group over another. I will work diligently to ensure that the best interest of Hamtramckans is attained."

About half of the city’s nearly 29,000 residents is estimated to be Muslim, according to census ancestry data, with many being of Arab and South Asian ethnicity. The city was originally a hub for Polish American immigrants and later became a haven to other immigrants as well, said M. Baqir Mohie El-Deen, policy program manager at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, or MPAC, who is also Michigan native.

Five of the council members are immigrants, and one is a convert to Islam, reported the Free Press.

“This City Council truly represents all the elements of Hamtramck history, whether they are Arabs, South Asian or European descendants,” Mohie El-Deen said.

Muslim Americans were also elected for mayoral seats for the first time in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.

“The win is indicative of a trend of leadership being more reflective of its community,” said Rummi Khan, chief operating officer for MPAC. “At the base, representation is the bedrock to the American political model, so it's critical that communities are governed by bodies that reflect their experiences.”

Khan added that a lot of the immigrant populations that came to these communities fled environments that were not supportive of a civic process, and now many of their children are exercising a right they didn't have.

According to a 2020 report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Jetpac, a nonprofit that trains Muslim Americans to run for public office, 110 candidates were on 2020 general election ballots across 24 states and Washington, D.C., “which is the highest number since organizations started mapping the electoral progress of politicians who identify as Muslim.”

Civic participation by Muslim voters has also steadily increased in the last few election cycles. A poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, showed that 78 percent of eligible Muslim voters in the United States are registered to vote this year, compared with just 60 percent who were registered in 2016.

"The election of a Muslim mayor and an all-Muslim City Council are, paradoxically, two opposite things: a genuine breakthrough that signals sweeping future changes and, at the same time, one of the oldest stories in America," said James Morone, a professor of political science and public policy at Brown University. "The City Council reflects both a new religious reality and a diverse racial reality that increasingly marks our cities. But, in a nation of immigrants, it's also a very old story: American history is all about new religious and ethnic groups immigrating, striking fear in some quarters, and then overcoming that fear and moving into leadership positions."

Diverse candidates outside of Michigan rang in victories as well. Asian Americans landed mayoral wins in three large cities: Boston, Cincinnati and Seattle. And New York elected five Asian Americans to its City Council, including its first Muslim woman, Shahana Hanif.

"These are wonderful steps toward the promise of a government for the people, of the people and by the people for all Americans," Mohie El-Deen of MPAC said. "That includes us as American Muslims."