Michigan Town Becomes First U.S. City With A Muslim-Majority City Council

| by Jared Keever
Hamtramck Street SceneHamtramck Street Scene

The United States is a nation of immigrants, and this can often lead to growing tensions as the country’s population undergoes demographic changes. Such is the case in one Michigan city which is reportedly believed to be the country’s first majority-Muslim city. 

Earlier in November, the city of Hamtramck, Michigan, elected 28-year-old Yemeni immigrant, Saad Almasmari, to the City Council, making him the fourth Muslim on the six-person council, The Washington Post and The Detroit News reported.

This decision is a sign of the city’s changing population.

Settled by German farmers, the Detroit suburb grew to be predominantly Polish Catholic as Polish immigrants flocked to the town after an automobile plant was built there in 1914, The Post noted. By 1970, the city was 90 percent Polish Catholic. That is down to 11 percent today.

The city’s mayor, Karen Majewski, told The Post that some residents fear the new makeup of the council will change the city. There have been complaints regarding local mosques' calls to prayer, which occurs five times a day. Others fear the city’s Polish heritage-themed festivals will become things of the past. 

“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” Majewski said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”

Sally Howell, an associate professor at University of Michigan-Dearborn and author of the book “Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past,” told The News she estimates the city is about 50 percent Muslim.

“It’s good to see them gain representation equal to their numbers on the City Council,” she said. “That’s a great opportunity for them and for the city to imagine a new future.”

Muslims were first attracted to the city by low home prices and low crime rates, according to The Post. 

Howell, who was also interviewed for The Post story, told the The News that the Muslim experience isn’t all that different than the Polish experience a century ago. 

“Hamtramck is famously a city that was known for being a real stronghold for the Polish community,” she said. “Hamtramck was important to the Poles for the same reason it’s important to these Muslim groups today in that they got to have a place where they could be the hegemonic voice. ... People were happy to have Hamtramck as a place that could really represent them. And I think that this is true today for the newer immigrants.”

But the Muslim population isn’t quite as hegemonic as the Polish population was. The city is 23 percent Arabic, 19 percent Bangladeshi, and 7 percent Bosnian, The Post reports.

That, mixed with the rest of the city’s population, is what makes the place so interesting, Almasmari said when speaking with The News after his election. He said he plans to work with everyone. 

“I like to serve my community,” he added. “I like everything in Hamtramck. ... The thing I like most in Hamtramck is the diversity.”

Sources: The Washington Post, The Detroit News / Photo credit: VasenkaPhotography/Flickr, Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post