Community Matters: Who, What and Where

State Legislator Abdullah Hussein Hammoud (D), 31, has become Dearborn’s first Arab-descent Muslim mayor — 54.6% vs. 45.2%. He declared, “There is a new era in Dearborn,” adding “Allah has all the glory. He plans. He is the ultimate of planners.” Born to Lebanese immigrants, Hammoud grew up in a working-class environment. His father was a truck driver; his mother had to drop out of high school when she had a child. But hard work enabled them to become successful small business owners who took good care of their five children. Hammoud, who studied biology and earned a Master’s degree in public health, has an MBA (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor) and worked as a health care consultant. In 2016, aged 26, he was elected State representative.

Ameer Haiderah Ghalib, a 42-year-old health care worker, defeated Hamtramck mayor Karen Majewski: 68% vs. 31%. This marks the first time in 100 years that a non-Polish mayor will lead the city, about half of which is believed to be Muslim. Ghalib, a Yemeni immigrant and father of three, graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in biology. Khalil A. Refai, Amanda Jaczkowski and Adam Albarmaki’s victories in the elections for council seats mean that the city’s entire six-member council is now Muslim. About one-quarter of the city has Yemeni roots, and another one-quarter has Bangladeshi roots. Both groups have been pushing for more representation in City Hall as the city faces pension and budget challenges.

Tania Fernandes Anderson handily defeated perennial candidate Roy Owens, the unconventional Roxbury minister whose anti-Muslim rhetoric failed to sway voters. She now becomes the Boston City Council’s first Muslim American, first African immigrant and first formerly undocumented person. Cape Verde-born Anderson (John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science; Springfield College) is a single mother who, despite extreme poverty and homelessness, raised two sons, now aged 15 and 22. Having grown up in Roxbury’s public housing, she founded Noah’s Advocate to bring deeply needed trauma-informed and mental health services to her community. She received more votes than her rival, who had accused her of supporting Sharia. In her endorsement statement, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said: “Tania is a trailblazer. She is an advocate. She is a community builder…” In her spare time, Anderson (executive director, Bowdoin Geneva Street Main Streets) supports and promotes the excellent and eclectic small businesses that contribute to her community. In 2019, her enjoyment of fashion design caused her to lead a masquerade band in Caribbean Carnival with the theme, “Children of Wakanda” — an artistic endeavour she hopes to repeat next year.

Azrin Awal, who won almost 31% of the votes to become one of Duluth’s two city council at-large seats, is the city’s first Muslim and Asian American city councilmember. Awal and her family immigrated from Bangladesh shortly after she was born, in 1996. She attended the University of Minnesota Duluth. Intending to stay there for only two years, she became so enamored of the port city that she’s been living there for six years. Given the city’s racial makeup — 88% white and 10% people of color — her grassroots campaign brought new voices into the political process. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3% of Duluth residents are foreign-born. Awal’s campaign involved knocking on 19,000 doors and holding about 2,000 conversations — roughly half of them in University of Minnesota Duluth dorms, where she worked hard to ensure student input. She also faced hateful, Islamophobic memes on Facebook. She’s currently working at Life House, a nonprofit organization focused on serving homeless youth, and at Mentor North, a youth mentorship program. On weekends, Awal cooks healthy meals for Individual Nutrition, a community-based meal-delivery service.

Shahana Hanif, the first woman and Muslima to represent Brooklyn’s 39th District in City Council, secured almost 90% of the vote. This percentage is a combination of her votes on the Democratic Party and Working Families Party line. She appeared under both on the Nov. 2 ballot. The first Muslima elected to the city’s legislature, she was endorsed by 100+ women. “I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I’m the daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, a Lupus survivor and an activist. I’m humbled to be the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council and the first woman to woman to represent my district,” she tweeted after the results. At age 17, Hanif (B.A., Brooklyn College) was diagnosed with lupus, an incurable and potentially fatal autoimmune disease. She cited her experience with this chronic illness, which forced her to navigate the health care system for years despite having inadequate health insurance, as her first window into disability justice and community organizing.

Shama Haider (D) won a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly — the House’s first Muslim. Haider, a lawyer, wears many hats: development director of Arts Horizons, a nonprofit arts education organization serving 300,000+ children in the tri-state area; chair of the Democratic Party in Tenafly (N.J.); sits on Bergen County (N.J.) Commission on the Status of Women, Bergen County Human Services Advisory Council; and chairman of the Tenafly Business Development Committee. She is also a Trustee of LRBT America, a nonprofit that raises funds to fight blindness and provide free medical services to the needy.

Akif-Nedra Patterson-Thompson was elected a City of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., councilmember. The first Muslim to occupy this position, she hopes to use her compassion and business skills to help the city move forward. A wife, mother, business and homeowner in her ward, she has spent almost 20 years raising her children. Right now, she is helping to educate her grandchildren in the City of Poughkeepsie School District. She knows firsthand the challenges families face inside and outside the classroom. A champion of mental wellness, she advocates for prevention, early intervention and cures for mental health problems. This Poughkeepsie resident brings business savvy to managing her household and, as a common council member, will bring integrity to the stewardship of public funds. Her goals are to improve the city’s fiscal health, provide incentives for job-creating investment and build a path toward homeownership so more families can share in Poughkeepsie’s potential.

Community Events

Former ISNA president Azhar Azeez (vice president, Islamic Relief USA) addressed the fourth annual summit of the Dallas Fort Worth Alliance for Religious Freedom. Held in Dallas on Oct. 29, 2021, this event focused on compromise, moderation and unity. The alliance, which is dedicated to protecting the rights and liberties of the free exercise of religion, focused on human dignity and religious freedom during the event’s first general session. Azeez was part of the panel that discussed “Local Action Plan for Human Dignity and Religious Freedom,” which emphasized human dignity and religious freedom in their respective neighborhoods, reported Aboobaker Ebrahim (a founding member and former vice president, the Islamic Association of North Texas [Richardson]).

Canadian Muslim News, a daily 15-minute news and analysis show covering headline news about Muslims and explaining Canadian Muslim communities to a wider audience was launched last Fall. “We have been praised for our objective, calm reporting, while many contemporary TV news programs have become sensationalist,” said Katherine Bullock, the show’s anchor, a well-known Canadian Muslim who is a writer, university lecturer and publisher. “Canadian Muslim News is amplifying news stories about Muslims, covering stories that are not usually covered in the mainstream media, and bringing Muslim perspectives to bear on issues facing Canada today. “ The show is a division of Sound Vision Foundation, and part of its Muslim Network TV channel — a daily talk show that evolved from Radio Islam, on WCEV 1450 AM Chicago. Radio Islam was the only daily Muslim radio program in the U.S. at the time and ran for almost 20 years. The next chapter began with the launch of Muslim Network TV in 2020 that broadcasts on traditional satellite in addition to Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and Roku. It also streams live on YouTube, Facebook, and on its website:

Davidson College (Davidson, N.C.) introduced halal meat to daily dining at three campus locations, reported The Davidsonian on Oct. 15, 2021. Elham Said (’25), the lead behind the change, said, “Davidson and [going to] North Carolina [was] my dream for five years. One hundred percent I was sure it was a college that accepts diversity and accepts people from all backgrounds, and this was the first thing that encouraged me to speak.” She received strong support from chaplain Rev. Rob Spach (’84), who acted as an intermediary between the Muslim students and dining services. According to him, “We have had halal meat previously at Davidson … but for some reason the distributors and things had changed during the Covid era. So going into this semester, there wasn’t anything available.” MSA president Rayed Hamid (’24) said, “So many students are now taking advantage,” adding that students have struggled in the past to voice their concerns about the lack of halal options. His freshman brother Rasikh (’22) had unsuccessfully tried to get something in the works when the dining service was doing a commemorative meal for Eid. The rapid reintegration of halal options on campus is a sign of student initiative and productive response by administration.

After 10 months of negotiations, on Oct. 8, 2021, Naperville’s (Ill.) planning and zoning commission voted 6-1 to recommend approving the proposed Islamic Center of Naperville. The plan includes a mosque, school, multipurpose hall, and gym to be built within a five-phase, 40-year process. The final structure will be a 121,000 square foot facility. Construction is expected to begin in 2024, if approved by the city council. Referring to the tough conditions mandated for the project, the center’s attorney Len Monson, remarked, “I think the conditions were a result of almost over-scrutiny of our project.”

ACommunity leaders gathered to celebrate a recent addition to Oklahoma City’s east side: the Clara Community Health Center, reported The Oklahoman on Oct. 3, 2021. This free clinic, attached to Masjid Mu’min and run by a team of volunteers, is an option for health care for those who might not otherwise be able to access it. Dr. Naveed Ahmed, a volunteer cardiologist and board of directors member, remarked, “They can walk in without having any kind of resources, and they can have one of the top-notch doctors taking care of them without any costs.” State Rep. Ajay Pittman (D), whose district includes the clinic, applauded its leaders for their work to improve health care access. The clinic offers crucial health screenings and can refer patients to specialists if needed, said Dr. Noor Jihan Abdul-Haqq, chair of the clinic’s board of directors and its medical director. “It’s a small office, but big enough to serve three patients at a time, with more in the waiting area … “it’s critical for people to have access to regular health screenings.” At her pediatrics clinics, she knows that some of her patients’ parents are uninsured and aren’t getting health care. According to her, people sometimes avoid health screenings for fear of what they might find out. Dr. Asma Saleem-Ward, an Oklahoma City family medicine physician who volunteers at the clinic and is also a board member, hopes the clinic will fill a gap for people who don’t qualify for services like Medicaid. The clinic is not far from homages to its two namesakes: the Clara Luper Corridor is nearby, named for the Oklahoma civil rights leader, as is a mural that depicts Clara Muhammad alongside her son and husband as well as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.