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Pathbreakers of Arab America--Abdullah Hammoud

posted on: Feb 14, 2024

PhotoCity of Dearborn

By: John Mason / Contributing Writer Arab America

This is the thirty-third in Arab America’s series on American pathbreakers of Arab descent. The series includes personalities from entertainment, business, sports, science, academia, journalism, and politics, among other areas. Our thirty-third pathbreaker is Abdullah H. Hammoud, the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan. Hammoud is the first Arab American and Muslim mayor in Dearborn’s history. Born on March 19, 1990, he is the son of Lebanese Shia immigrants who fled their country during its civil war. Hammoud is the proud leader of a community that is home to one of the largest Middle Eastern and Muslim populations per capita in the U.S. He has most recently played a critical role in representing this population in its response to the massive loss of Palestinian lives in the Hamas-Israel war.

Renaissance Mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah Hammoud, governs with intelligence and passion.

Hammoud is the seventh mayor of Dearborn and a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives, serving the 15th district from 2017 to 2021. According to Wikipedia, his Lebanese American parents are working class but positively influenced their son’s pursuit of a higher education. Abdullah earned a degree in biology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, a master’s degree in epidemiology and genetics, and a second master’s degree in business administration, both from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is married to Fatima Beydoun, a physician and fellow Shia Muslim, and they have children.

Mayor Abdullah Hammoud walks out with his wife, Dr. Fatima Beydoun, during the Inauguration at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center on Jan. 15, 2022. Hammoud is the first Arab American and first Muslim to be mayor of Dearborn — Photo Detroit Press

Mayor Hammoud has applied his education effectively to improve the lives of his constituents. For example, he established a local health department in Dearborn, the first city in Michigan to do so voluntarily. He reformed the city’s police force by being more open to officers from different social and ethnic backgrounds. That focus contributed, per Wikipedia, to “a 50 percent decrease in the proportion of tickets issued to Black drivers and a 10 percent decrease in the number of car accidents in the city.” Hammoud has also proposed “investments in water and sewer infrastructure as well as investments in parks and green spaces and a reduction of parking minimums for new development as part of a flood mitigation strategy for the city, which was heavily impacted by flooding in 2019 and 2021.”

Through his role as mayor and as a rep in the Michigan House, Hammoud has promoted programs for Dearborn that improve residents’ quality of life for over ten years. As a rep, he delivered nearly $100 million in direct investment. According to a City of Dearborn promo, this included transformational infrastructure projects such as the Miller-Rotunda Bridge and programs to address the City’s aging infrastructure “while pursuing innovative solutions to mitigate chronic flooding and upgrade technology to improve the city’s operations.” Hammoud has helped his constituents improve public health and safety while lowering the tax burden on residents.

Hammoud’s election is very important for his fellow Arab American residents of Dearborn. A reprint in from the City of Dearborn purports that his “election is an excellent progressive step for Arab Americans in Dearborn. The city is home to a growing number of politically orientated Arab American youths who are hungry to see people who look like them in positions of power. There could be no better position of power than the mayor!” His election also means a more excellent reflection of the U.S. population, including racial and religious diversity.

Dearborn embroiled in politics of Hamas-Israel war.

President Biden’s campaign officials had reached out to Dearborn. Their concern was the potential of the city’s large proportion of Arab Americans to shift the results of the 2024 November presidential election. That was because Dearborn’s citizens were critical of President Biden’s taking sides with Israel at the expense of Palestinians. The Israeli Defense Force’s killing of thousands of Gaza Palestinians, especially women and children, was grating on Arab Americans. They believed that Biden did not have their back.

So, the President’s campaign officials got an “icy reception” when they showed up in Dearborn. Regrouping, the president’s office shifted gears and sent senior officials to sit down with city leaders instead of campaign officials. According to FOX 2 Detroit, this represented “a thaw in icy relations from city leaders regarding the Middle East conflict.” A two-hour policy discussion ensued between Dearborn residents and the Biden administration’s senior advisors—not campaign staff. Mayor Hammoud reported, “This meeting was held to ensure that the White House and those with the ability to change the course of the genocide unfolding in Gaza very clearly hear and understand the demands of our community – directly from us.”

Photo — University of Michigan

Mayor Hammoud asked the Biden administration, “What do I tell my residents? My residents who have lost loved ones overseas…[adding that] it was not the time to talk about elections and that the need was to demand a cease-fire immediately.” Hammoud further added, “When foreign policy decisions directly impact the well-being of Dearborn residents, it is irresponsible to walk away from difficult policy conversations that can lead to saving the lives of innocent men, women, and children. As citizens of the United States of America and representatives of the City of Dearborn, we have done our duty; now it is incumbent upon the President to do the same.”

Dearborn’s imam of the Islamic Center of Detroit, Imran Salha, was enraged by the administration’s arrogance. He noted that Biden’s attempt to send advisors to Dearborn was an insult. The imam averred that conversations about Gaza should have happened “maybe 30,000 innocent souls ago. It’s too late. You knew, and you were well aware of their indiscriminate killing.” Salha’s own family had been directly affected by the war: “One of my relatives was murdered. Thirty-seven years old, in her car, her husband was driving – by an Israeli soldier, and her son was in the back. She leaves eight children behind. What do you think my ask is? I want the killing to stop. I want Israel to be held accountable.”

In a related story, Mayor Hammoud took sharp issue with a Wall Street Journal op-ed called Dearborn ‘America’s Jihad Capital.’ NBC News reported that due to the Journal attack on his city, the mayor “ramped up security measures this weekend.” The op-ed suggested that “Dearborn’s residents — including Muslim faith leaders and politicians — support Hamas and the Iran-backed group Hezbollah.” The Journal was spuriously linking criticism of the Hamas-Israel war with Dearborn’s sizable population of Muslims and Arab Americans.

As a precaution, Mayor Hammoud provided police security at mosques and other important public places, following what he described on the social media platform X as an “alarming increase in bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric online targeting the city of Dearborn. Stay vigilant,” Hammoud wrote.

A wise man. Wise words.

–“Abdullah Hammoud,” Wikipedia Biographies of Arab Americans, 2024
–“Meet the Mayor: Abdullah Hammoud,” City of Dearborn, 2022
–“Abdullah Hammoud became the first Muslim mayor of the US’s largest Muslim population. Here’s what he has planned,” the City of Dearborn, (reprinted in Arab America), 12/8/2023
–“Dearborn mayor meets with Biden advisors over Israel-Hamas war,” Fox 2 Detroit, 2/8/2024
–“Dearborn mayor blasts ‘inflammatory’ Wall Street Journal op-ed calling city ‘Jihad Capital’”, NBC News, 2/2024

John Mason, Ph.D., focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, and is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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