At least one Muslim recently elected to the nation’s first majority Muslim city council has already caused controversy with taunting remarks against Polish residents on election night.
“Today we show the Polish and everyone else,” Ibrahim Algahim, one of three Muslims elected to lead the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, announced following last Tuesday’s election, according to cell phone video just broadcast by Fox 2 Detroit.
Hamtramck is a historically Polish community outside of Detroit that’s witnessed a surge of Arab immigrants from Yemen and Bangladesh over the last 15 years, and experts believe the city is now about half Muslim.
The city council has one incumbent Muslim, Mohammed Hassan, who was not up for re-election, which means the number of Muslims now on the six-member board is four, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Cathie Lisinki-Gordon, who lost her council seat last week, was aghast at Alaghim’s victory speech.
“I’m shocked that he said that. I’m a very good friend of his,” Lisinki-Gordon said. “I cannot believe that he would ever profile any select group. Especially when his community has felt ostracized and profiled for many years.”
Algahim’s comments, which he delivered to a room of his Muslim supporters, were captured in a video and posted online. Newly election Muslim council member Saad Almasmari was present during the controversial remarks and can be seen in the video shaking his head in disapproval.
“I don’t believe in that,” Almasmari, who collected the most votes in the election, told Fox 2. “And as a candidate, as a city council member, I’m going to work for everybody, represent everybody, because I got elected for everybody.”
“Although we are Muslims, it doesn’t have anything to do with serving the community,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s not about religion. It’s not about Muslim unity. We are planning to work for everyone.”
The other Muslim winner, Abu Musa, echoed Almasmari.
“I am a very good Muslim,” he told the Free Press. “I try my best to pray five times (a day), but when I get elected, every single ethnic votes for me, not (only) the Muslim vote for me, but Christians, every single ethnic group, African-Americans, Polish. I’m a good friend of the Polish.”
Bill Meyer, former chairman of the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission, defended Algahim in an interview with Fox 2.
“What Algahim was saying at the time was he was meaning that the Yemini and Bangladeshi communities finally worked together to go forward with a successful election,” he said. “The ultimate goal is for everyone to work together here. We got a great possibility of showing the world how great … ethnic groups can work together to solve problems.”
The Free Press reports Hamtramck “is now about 24% Arab (mostly Yemeni); 19% African American; 15% Bangladeshi; 12% Polish; and 6% Yugoslavian (many Bosnian), according to U.S. Census figures.”
Algahim was “unavailable” for comment, according to media reports.
Interestingly, Meyer was removed as chairman of the Human Relations Commission, and replaced with “Ibrahim Aljahim,” presumably the same Aljahim who made the divisive comments.
“I removed Bill because of a long-term pattern of behavior that caused me to lose confidence in his commitment to the commission’s mission, culminating in his acting unilaterally, outside the bounds of the commission’s mandate and its procedure,” Mayor Karen Majewski wrote in an email to The Hamtramck Review.
“For some time, I’ve been hearing complaints and personally witnessed behavior that suggested a lack of sensitivity to discrimination based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation,” she wrote. “Serious questions were also brought to me by fellow commissioners about the election of officers over which he presided.”
Hamtramck’s Polish and Muslim communities previously clashed in 2004 when the council members voted to allow mosques throughout the city to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer over loudspeakers five times per day, the Free Press reports.