HAMTRAMCK, Michigan — One suburb is the first in the country to elect an all-Muslim city council, and they hope this can lead to more diversity in leadership throughout the United States.
If you walk the streets of Hamtramck, Michigan, you’ll soon realize this what a slice of American culture looks like.
“This city is a multi-cultural and multi-religious city,” said Amer Ghalib, the mayor of Hamtramck. “The immigrants make up the vast majority of this city’s population.”
The city is a melting pot, originally established by Polish and German immigrants. But within the last 30 years, the city became the first Muslim-American majority population.
“I came here in 2014, so I’ve been here for seven years and a few months,” said Adam Albarmaki, a newly elected city council member.
Hamtramck then planted itself in U.S. history, becoming the first in the country to elect a city council and mayor who are all of the Muslim faith.
“I came from Yemen in 2014,” Albarmaki said. “I became a U.S. citizen in 2019. And I ran for office in 2021.”
At 22 years old, Albarmaki is now one of Hamtramck’s city council members.
“When the wars started, and the Yemen side started to get bad, my family decided to move to the United States,” Albarmaki said. “Living here, I decided to give back to the community that has given me so much. I think we need to give a chance to people of color to lead in this country and see what they can bring to the table you know?”
Ghalib, the mayor of Hamtramck, came to the United States 22 years ago.
“The main reason for people, including my family and myself, to come to the United States is to look for a better life. We also came to enjoy democracy, which we were deprived of in the motherlands that we came from. It’s for the first time to have an all-Muslim government of any city in the United States. To us, it doesn’t matter, but it just adds more pressure to us to work harder so we can prove that we can do the job just like anyone else."
What Ghalib and Albarmaki hope to do is promote change across the country.
According to a 2021 Gallup Poll, one-third of Americans say they would never vote for a Muslim political candidate, by far the least support of people of any religion in the survey.
“We do have places in this country where there is not that level of hate or fear,” said Eileen Ma, with Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Ma said Hamtramck is helping pave the way for leadership diversity in other cities. Hamtramck is one of the cities that passed an initiative to allow voting ballots to be in a different language to help voters.
“Perhaps, this is one small way that people can get access to democracy,” Ma said. “For many people in Hamtramck, English is not their first language, and limited English proficient. And to participate in our democracy, they need to have interpretation for participation. You can get one small victory in one place that can ripple into additional achievements in terms of representation.”
In order to create change in the country, Ghalib and Albarmaki said it starts with creating change in their city.
They want to provide more opportunities to help others like them who moved to a different country to start a new life.
“This proves that this is really the land of opportunity,” Ghalib said. “The American dream is still alive and well. It can happen anywhere around the country, and this is something that we’re really proud of.”