Muslims, just like other minorities, rejoice at the election of people that look and pray like us.
I remember when America elected our first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison. I have met him many times and was happy to see him win in 2007.
Then, we had Andre Carson spill onto the scene in 2008. Suddenly having two people who understand your faith representing us on the national level felt like a Muslim deluge.
It was hardly that, but to go from zero to two felt like a huge win.
Both congressional delegates are African American men. Although the Black population makes up 30% of U.S. Muslims, it was a strong start to feeling valued as an American and represented as a Muslim.
Former President Barak Obama is not Muslim (although he was accused as such), but it was refreshing, nonetheless, to have a person of color traveling to the Muslim world who could relate to our issues.
His presidency was unfortunately followed by a backlash of anti-Muslim sentiment.
The 2016 presidential race was won on Islamophobic tropes and exclusionary attitudes. “Muslim ban” became a campaign slogan that broke the hearts of many Americans and Muslims worldwide.
The election of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar in 2018 – both being Muslim women who represented the rest of the 70% of U.S. Muslims – felt like an answer to the national swell of bigotry. These two women felt especially representative of myself.
I am a Palestinian refugee who grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Tlaib is of Palestinian origin, so I know she feels my longing for home. Ilhan Omar represents me because she, too, is a refugee. These women carry in them experiences that make America great, free and a beacon of hope for the world.
When Biden was elected, he kept his promise and dismantled the Muslim ban on day one of his presidency. He has also kept his word on appointing people to positions that reflect true U.S. diversity.
Enter the nomination of Indian American Rashad Hussain as U.S. Ambassador At Large for International Religious Freedom. He will be the first Muslim to serve in this position.
Hussain previously served as a delegate to Muslim nations as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) under Obama. In this position, he spearheaded efforts on countering anti-Semitism and worked to protect religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
If this surprises you, then there is much for you to learn about Islam.
Islam, regardless of media representation, is pluralistic. Freedom of religion is a part of Islamic faith.
We are told in the Qur’an that “there is no compulsion in religion” [2:256]. This means we are not supposed to try and convert others to Islam. We are told in the Qur’an that God created many different kinds of people so that we may learn from each other [49:13].
Although he has been nominated by President Biden, Hussain has not yet been confirmed by the Senate. He is uniquely qualified for this position because he has not only fought against hate, but he has also been on the receiving end of it.
As a child growing up in a war-torn camp, polarized between religious sects, I, too, experienced hate. The hatred I experienced there for simply being born gave me a perspective of love. I have more empathy because of my experiences and through them grew my passion for interfaith work.
With representation of Muslims expanding wider (many municipalities, school boards and other local governments over the past few years have elected their first Muslim members) and higher (federal level appointments and elections), I am hopeful my fellow citizens will soon see that Islam is as American as apple pie.
Senior Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, and chair of Islamic Studies at Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University. He is the author of Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose, and appeared in the short documentary “Mercy” (2018) and the feature-length documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” (2010).