At 26, Abdullah Hammoud became the first ever Arab American Muslim elected to represent Michigan’s 15th State House District. Despite facing some racial and religious backlash during his campaign, Abdullah has never been one to shy away from his identity.
The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Abdullah, now 27, grew up embracing his diverse community in Dearborn, Michigan. According to data from the Arab American Institute, Michigan has the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the country.
As a product of Dearborn and its public schools, Abdullah always wanted to give back to the community. But after plans to go to medical school went awry when he didn’t get in, he pursued health care policy and then worked to protect Michigan’s public land, air and water, as the youngest board member for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters instead.
Abdullah was moved to seek public office in part by the tragic and unexpected death of his older brother, Ali. After taking the oath of office on what would have been Ali’s 29th birthday, Abdullah dedicated his service to his brother’s memory: “The loss of my older brother was the reason I ran for office, solely almost. One of the largest reasons,” Abdullah said. “It was like how can I carry on his legacy? And it was to be an advocate for my community the same way he was an advocate for me.”
Abdullah faced many challenges while running. Some in his community, he said, encouraged him to change his name to ‘Abe’ to avoid discrimination, at a time when his detractors were sending him messages reading: “No more Muslims. No more Arabs. Go back home.” But Abdullah stuck it out and ultimately prevailed, beating out his opponent, former WWE wrestler Terrence Guido “Rhyno” Gerin by a stunning margin of 21,739 to 13,452 votes. He says that although he didn’t run as “the Muslim” or “the Arab” candidate, those are two parts of his identity he didn’t shy away from, something his community appreciated.
“I wanted to come across like I’m just Abdullah from Dearborn and all I want to do is fight back for this community that gave me and family everything,” he said.
So far, Hammoud has already introduced 24 bills and resolutions, gaining bipartisan support for nearly half of them]. His appeal, however, doesn’t stop at how active he’s been on the Michigan House floor. He’s also committed to remaining accessible to and in-tune with the Dearborn that elected him.
Because of his own immigrant family upbringing and the large immigrant population in his district, Abdullah has fought back hard against the Trump administration’s “Muslim Ban.” To tackle the bigoted backlash following the executive order, he introduced the largest legislative immigrant civil rights package in the country, containing 16 bills and resolutions. Adopting welcoming policies with the help of ACLU Michigan, Michigan United, the National Association of Social Workers, Emgage, and others, the legislative package is currently in various committees, and Abdullah is in the process of getting hearings on the bills.
Abdullah also uses his platform as a state legislator to correct stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs, not only on the House floor, but in his personal relationships with other legislators. Out of the 110 state representatives in Michigan, Abdullah said he has taken 34 of them back to Dearborn, introducing them to the city’s rich Arab American history and character. He says many of his colleagues say he’s the first Muslim they’ve met. Although Abdullah may be succeeding at redefining the Arab American Muslim narrative for some, he still faces direct and indirect hostility from others.
“You can’t sever a tie because of an ignorant comment or action. I tell myself at the end of the day, I’m here for my community. And for me to pass anything for my community, I need votes and this individual is one of those votes. So, you have to come back to this idea that it’s bigger than just you,” he said.
Abdullah is committed to embracing his identity as a state representative. Whether that’s delivering an invocation on the House floor while reciting pieces from the Quran or introducing a Ramadan resolution, he’s always just been “Abdullah from Dearborn.”
This piece was originally published in Teen Vogue.