Earlier this month, the city of Hamtramck, Michigan, became the first jurisdiction in the United States to elect a Muslim-majority city council, and people are on edge about it.
“It’s traumatic for them,” said Mayor Karen Majewski, whose family established roots in the city in the early 20th century, according to The Washington Post. Hamtramck was always known as an enclave of Polish-Americans.
But all that changed in 2013, when it became America’s first Muslim-majority city following a decade-long arrival of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia. This took Hamtramck from a 90 percent Polish-Catholic population in 1970 to 11 percent today.
And with the arrival of the new Muslim population, lured by low home prices coupled with low a crime rate, came the Islamic call to prayer emanating from the city’s mosques, a move that Majewski proposed to allow.
“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”
The Muslim community doesn’t necessarily understand that anxiety. The post reported:
Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear.
Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.
“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari. “When we asked for votes, we didn’t ask what their religion was.”
It could be because they’re reminded of the city’s new Muslim-majority population every day when the call to prayer is blasted from loudspeakers atop the city’s Islamic centers. That began in 2004, the year many city residents believe everything changed.
“The Polish people think we were invading them,” said Masud Khan, one of the mosque’s leaders. “We were a big threat to their religion and culture. Now their days are gone.”
The invasion into the city’s traditional way of life continues. The Post reported:
The mosque, which attracts about 500 people for its Friday prayer services, has purchased a neighboring vacant limestone building in the heart of the city that once was a furniture store. The mosque’s leaders plan to put a minaret — a spire — on the building and use it to continue broadcasting a call to prayer five times a day.
The private sale enraged city leaders, including the mayor, who sees the area as key to commercial growth. Mosque leaders estimate that the 20,000-square-foot building will hold up to 2,000 people once the renovation is finished next year.
The apprehension is felt not just by the once-majority Polish-Catholics — it’s also felt by the city’s African-Americans.
“They are clannish and stick together,” said Wayne Little, the 40-year pastor of the Corinthian Baptist Church. “The jury is out on them,” he added.
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