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Honoring The New Muslim American Government Officials

January 20, 2013 by  


By Laura Fawaz, Contributing Reporter

Rashida Tlaib . a Democrat, is photographed outside the Michigan Capitol Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, in Lansing, Mich. Elected to the 12th District of the state House, Tlaib becomes the first Muslim woman ever to serve in the Michigan legislature. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
File:  Rashida Tlaib

Dearborn, MI–Last Tuesday evening the Bint Jabail Cultural Center (BJCC) of Dearborn, MI hosted a special dinner honoring the five new Muslim Americans that have been elected into their new government positions.

Honorable Judge Charlene Edler of the 3rd district court in Detroit, Mr. Brian Mosallam, board of trustee at his alma mater, Michigan State University, Honorable Chief Judge Sam Salamey of the 19th District Court of Dearborn, State Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, and the Honorable Chief Judge David Turfe of the 20th District Court of Dearborn Heights, were all honored at this event.  The emcee of the evening first began with a few opening remarks on how this is a momentous occasion that is just the beginning for the Muslim community in America, God Willing.  The speakers of the evening, Mr. Nick Bazzi, the president of BJCC, as well as Mr. Hajj Mohamed Turfe, the founder of BJCC, each spoke on the admirable accomplishments that these five individuals have done, not just for themselves, but for the Muslim image in America.  Mohamed Turfe added to this message by pointing out that when these government officials stand up for civil rights, they are representing their faith, and coinciding with Islamic principals such as truth and justice. 

Before dinner, each honoree gave a short speech.  Every one of them focused on the sense of community, the Muslim community, and in this case, the Arab-American community as well.  All of them are the first Arab-Americans, and first Muslim Americans, in their position when they first took office.  And for Elder and Tlaib, the first Arab-American, Muslim American, and female in their respected positions.

Hon. Judge Elder was practicing law as an attorney in Dearborn until 2005, when Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed her to serve the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court of Michigan, located in Wayne County.  She became the first Muslim woman to sit on any court in the country.  Her colleagues, as reflected in recent comments by Chief Judge Mary Beth Kelly, admire her success in both fronts, “Judge Elder has a deep presence about her and a peaceful serenity that obviously comes from her faith, and as a devout mother and wife she genuinely embodies all the values that we all hold so dearly,” said Kelly.

The city of Dearborn, MI is known for having the highest Muslim and Arab-American population outside of the Middle East, yet it was not until this past election that it was represented in the courts.  The Honorable Chief Judge Sam Salamey was officially named the new 19th District Court Judge, becoming the first ever Arab American Judge in the city of Dearborn.  Most of the residents in the city of Dearborn feel that this is a step in the right direction for a community that represents close to 45 percent of the city’s Arabic population.  9,000 Absentee Ballots were estimated to have been casted in this past election in the city of Dearborn, an all time record.  Many believe that Salamey’s campaign is a huge part of that for two reasons.  First, his campaign encouraged many Arab American citizens to vote through the Absentee process if they felt they would not be capable to stand in long lines.  Second, many Dearborn residents were expected to travel the Islamic Pilgrimage of Hajj, which began just days prior to Election Day.  The campaign estimated that close to 1,500 supporters placed their votes early, which gave them some assurance since absentee ballots are typically dominated by senior citizens who usually vote for the incumbent.

Any candidate receiving 1.9 million votes would set a precedent, and in November, 2012, Brian Mosallam did just that.  All while still becoming the first Arab American, Muslim American, to win a statewide election on a Democratic slate.  Mosallam, an MSU alum, is known as a man of many hats, one being his football career.  During his time at MSU he became co-captain of the football team, and still graduated with honors after receiving his degree of science in engineering arts in 1996.  Growing up in east Dearborn, he attended Fordson High School where he was the class president and captain of the football team.  In 1992, he received a football scholarship to play for MSU.

As a member of MSU’s Board of Trustees, Mosallam is one of eight people who are responsible for the school’s budget, transactions, projects and policies.  Mosallam says that the Arab American community continues to show him great support, and one way he prefers to give back is towards education.  He’s currently serving as the chairman for an organization called the Dearborn Schools Education Foundation.  Established in 1992, the organization has raised and returned over $1.5 million to the Dearborn Schools through teacher grant requests. 

Michigan is one of 34 states that recently went through a redistricting process, which began in April of 2011.  Controlled and created by the Republican Party, some of Michigan’s new districts now have democrats competing within the same district, such as Democrats Gary Peters and Sander Levin.  Governor Rick Snyder signed the plan into law last August.  One State Representative who faced concerns over the new district lines is Representative Rashida Tlaib.  But she was able to overcome it; being reelected as a Michigan State Rep., but now for the 6th District in Detroit, rather than the 12th she held in her previous term in 2004.  Tlaib became the first Muslim American female to serve in the Michigan Legislature, and the second Muslim women in history to be elected to any state legislature in America.

In 2006, running as the only Muslim Judge, David Turfe had his work cut out for him, but he lived up to the challenge with an insistent door-to-door campaign to physically get the citizens out to vote.  Seven years later, he is still known for this insistent door-to-door campaign, as it was mentioned again at this event.  Many people inside and outside of the courtroom know Judge Turfe as being balanced and fair.  His peers in the Michigan Supreme Court agreed by appointing him as a Chief Judge in November of 2010.  Their choice mirrors the recognition from the Michigan Supreme Court in the way that he manages his courtroom.

The gathering last Tuesday evening in Dearborn, MI turned out to be an event where each and every Muslim in attendance left with a proud feeling to be an American Muslim.  Even though this event was to honor the five new Muslim Americans that have been elected into their new government positions, the attendees left feeling like honorees, with a strong sense of community.

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