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Pathbreakers of Arab America— Abraham Aiyash

posted on: Jun 12, 2024

Photo — Abraham Aiyash Campaign

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

This is the forty-ninth of 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 forty-ninth pathbreaker is Abraham Aiyash, an American politician who serves as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from the 4th district. A Yemeni-American, he was taught by his immigrant parents the value of public service. Aiyash is Michigan’s first Muslim in House majority leadership. He was elected as the House Majority Leader for the 2023-2024 session and is a staunch opponent of President Biden’s support of Israeli President Netanyahu’s murderous actions against Palestinians in Gaza. Aiyash said he decided to run for office because of his “deep and lifelong commitment to public service.

Abraham Aiyash—valuable public servant, an ardent supporter of Arab American values

Aiyash was born and raised in Hamtramck, Michigan, the seventh of eight children. His parents, Muslims, immigrated to Michigan from Yemen. His father was a UAW auto worker in Detroit, while his mother raised the children. According to Wikipedia series on Arab Americans, he was educated in the Hamtramck Public Schools and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University, where he studied pre-medicine, political science, and Muslim studies. A Democrat, Aiyash represents the district including much of Detroit’s Midtown, New Center, North End, Boston Edison, Virginia Park, and all of the city of Hamtramck. In 2023, Aiyash became majority leader of the House of Representatives.

As early as age 13, Aiyash worked as a community organizer for the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign. And in 2015 and 2016, he worked in the office of State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson. According to the publication ‘BallotPedia,’ he worked as the executive director of the Yemeni American Merchants Association. In 2018, Aiyash was a candidate for the Democratic primary to represent Michigan’s 2nd Senate district. He finished second after Adam Hollier, who won the general election. During his campaign, Aiyash was endorsed by the ‘Detroit Free Press.’ Abraham announced his candidacy for the 4th district of the House of Representatives following the death of Isaac Robinson in March 2020, placing first in a field of 13 Democrat primary candidates. He defeated the Republican nominee, assuming office on December 1, 2020.

Abraham with constituents — Photo Aiyash Campaign

In 2023, Aiyash became the majority leader of the House of Representatives, the first Arab American to do so. He also became the highest-ranking Muslim American in the state’s legislative history. Major initiatives he supports are clean energy, legislation against pollution, and other environmental and public health issues. Aiyash has also advanced legislation aimed at gun reform and legislation to make Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr state holidays. Furthermore, he supports expanding civil rights, having co-sponsored in 2023 a bill in the Michigan state legislature that amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the LGBTQ community.

According to ‘Meet Rep. Aiyash,’ Abraham is setting House priorities in a legislative term where Democrats have the majority for the first time in over a decade. “His priorities include protecting the rights of all people, championing solutions to address social and health disparities in poor and working-class communities, clean energy and environmental stewardship, and stronger consumer protections in Michigan.”

On his international agenda, Aiyash opposed a resolution calling for the support of Israel and condemnation of the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel, saying the resolution fails to recognize the suffering of the Palestinians. Aiyash stated, “I think any conversation around what is happening in Israel and Palestine that makes no acknowledgment of the 70-plus year occupation and mistreatment of the Palestinian people is disrespectful.”

Aiyash gets very serious about his opposition to the White House dragging its feet on the Gaza war

CBS News Detroit reported on December 1, 2023, that Michigan State Rep. Abraham Aiyash had embarked on a hunger strike to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. His hunger strike followed a four-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas earlier that week. Abraham, along with other lawmakers from New York, Virginia, and Delaware, as well as union members, called for an end to the conflict. Aiyash reported, “I’m on day three of my hunger strike, and while I am voluntarily choosing not to eat, there are people that are not eating as a result of no access to food.”

“We cannot bomb our way to peace,” Aiyash said. “Certainly not bombing children and innocent people, and we have seen the destruction with over 15,000 Palestinians who have now been murdered. We want to see a release of all the hostages, a return of the prisoners that were unlawfully detained, and an end to the bombing so we can finally have peace in that region.” He participated in a protest with fellow demonstrators, who gathered outside the White House and began painting drops of blood on a long canvas to illustrate the number of children killed.

“We are currently painting one droplet of blood for each child’s life that’s been lost,” he said. “Clearly, we have a ways to go. We still have to finish rolling that out. But just to demonstrate the impact of war.” Abraham noted he is no stranger to fasting since he participates in Ramadan each year, but where that tradition allows eating at night, his protest fast is all the time.

Aiyash more recently criticized the White House for not reaching out to the Arab American community about Gaza. Huff Post reported that recent social media posts by state Rep. Abraham Aiyash highlight the Arab community’s frustrations with the Biden campaign in the swing state. It reported, “Michigan’s top Arab and Muslim elected state-level official said on Friday that the White House and fellow Democratic leaders have failed to reach out to him about concerns from the swing state’s significant Arab community about Israel’s continuous bombardment of Gaza.”

Photo — Aiyash Campaign

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Aiyash said that he has received “ZERO correspondence” since Oct. 7 from the White House, the Democratic National Committee, or the Michigan Democratic Party leadership about the community’s concerns regarding U.S. involvement in the “ongoing genocide unfolding in Gaza.”

Aiyash explained his irritation over the White House snub of Michigan’s Democratic state leaders. “I highlight this for several reasons: Michigan has a significant Arab and Muslim community. Michigan is a critical state this November. Furthermore, Abraham continued in another post, “I am the highest ranking Arab and Muslim elected in Michigan, and the lack of outreach only suggests there isn’t a legitimate concern or respect for our communities here in Michigan (and broadly across the US).”

As HuffPost reported, “Aiyash’s posts further highlight the difficulty facing President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign in Michigan, a state that has one of the largest Arabic-speaking populations in the country. Arab and Muslim community leaders have repeatedly voiced their anger with Biden’s continued support for Israel’s ongoing attacks against Palestinian civilians, which are being investigated at the international level as possible genocide.”

Abraham is one of Michigan’s most important Democratic officials, who could tilt the November presidential election away from President Biden. He needs to be listened to by the Biden administration. But this is more important than votes, it’s about the thousands and thousands of Palestinian citizens of Gaza who’ve been killed or wounded since October 7. Aiyash needs to be listened to in Washington.

–“Abraham Aiyash,” Wikipedia section on Arab Americans, 2023-2034
–“Michigan State Rep. Abraham Aiyash embarks on hunger strike to call for cease-fire, CBS Detroit, 12/1/2023
–“Meet Rep. Aiyash,” MI House Democrats, Committees, 2024
–“Abraham Aiyash,” BallotPedia, 2024
–“Michigan’s Top Arab Elected Leader Says White House Never Reached Out About Gaza,” HuffPost, 1/28/2024

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. The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

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