opinion

Inshallah

Meet the Man Who Could Be America’s First Muslim Governor

Michigan’s Abdul El-Sayed is in one sense the Bernie Sanders of Michigan. But he’s also young, and a state native who played college lacrosse as a Wolverine.

opinion

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Donald Trump has truly been an inspiration.

On the vile side, we’re seeing a spike in white supremacist activities on college campuses and white supremacist deadly terror attacks, as recently documented by the Anti-Defamation League. Trump has inspired these “Americans” by retweeting visible white supremacists, defending white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville as “fine people,” and now championing the white supremacists’ long held dream of ending family unification of immigrants, which they call “chain migration.”

But on the side of the best of America, Trump has inspired people who oppose his bigotry, racism, and sexism to run for office. There are a record number of women running in 2018, including Rachel Crooks, who courageously told the story of how Trump sexually assaulted her. There are countless people of color and of varying immigration statuses running this year. And add to that I have never seen more Muslim Americans seeking office on all levels, from City Council, like Liliana Bakhtiari in Atlanta, to people running for Congress, such as Fayrouz Saad, a former Obama administration official from Michigan, and former Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib, who just announced her candidacy to replace former representative John Conyers.

The one candidate in this group who has truly captured the media’s attention is another Michigander: Abdul El-Sayed, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. If elected, the 33-year-old El-Sayed would be the first Muslim American ever elected as governor and the youngest governor since a 32-year-old Bill Clinton was elected in Arkansas back in 1978.

There’s a reason why former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau‏ tweeted a video about El-Sayed with the words: ‘Reminds me of someone I used to work for.’

However, El-Sayed’s faith and age are the least of the reasons to support him. I spoke at length to El-Sayed both as a guest on my SiriusXM radio show and in person. Simply put, this guy is the real deal. He’s not only charismatic, he’s well versed in the nuances of policy on issues from job creation to education to especially healthcare, given he’s a medical doctor who previously headed Detroit’s health department.

There’s a reason why former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau‏ tweeted a video about El-Sayed with the words: “Reminds me of someone I used to work for.” But as El-Sayed commented about the comparison, “I love Obama—but I’m not him.” He’s right. In fact, on policy issues, El-Sayed is much more of a younger, brown Muslim version of Bernie Sanders. And it’s no coincidence that some former Sanders campaign people have joined El-Sayed’s campaign.

But there’s something else that makes you root for him. The Michigan born El-Sayed is a living example of the American dream. He’s the son of Egyptian immigrants. He was captain of the high school football team and played lacrosse at University of Michigan. He then went on to win a Rhodes scholarship and earned a medical degree from Columbia University.

El-Sayed is currently locked in a two-person race with Gretchen Whitmer, a former State Senate minority leader backed by the Democratic establishment. But the excitement is on El-Sayed’s side as friends in Michigan have made clear. That’s likely why there was a recent anonymous attack on El-Sayed’s eligibility based on the state constitution’s requirement that gubernatorial candidates be registered as a Michigan voter for the four prior years to running. While El-Sayed was born and raised in Michigan, he did attend Columbia medical school in New York from 2012-2015 and then returned to Michigan in 2016. El-Sayed’s campaign, however, is confident it will prevail on this attack—which they view as akin to birthersim—since he was still a registered voter in Michigan at all times.

Even in a state like Michigan, where there’s a sizable Arab American and Muslim population, a guy named Abdul El-Sayed has seen challenges. He explained that after 9/11 he was subjected to taunts like “Go back to your country!” and others calling him “raghead.” And just last year, a Michigan mosque was burned down in a case of arson.

However, the response to that fire was that people in the community of all faiths donated over $30,000 to rebuild the mosque. That’s the real Michigan to El-Sayed, who explained, “Michiganders don’t care how you pray, but what you pray for.” He added, “I pray for my family, my state, my country and for Michigan football. I know a lot of Michiganders pray for the same things.”

On the issues, El-Sayed is championing not only a bold, progressive agenda but one specific to Michigan. “When I travel Michigan, I hear from people of all backgrounds that they feel locked out of the economy,” he explained. El-Sayed contrasted that with where the Democrats went wrong in the 2016 campaign that saw Trump take Michigan: “The Democratic establishment told Michiganders in 2016 that the economy was back—well, it wasn’t.”

El-Sayed passionately explained the need for a single payer healthcare system which would help both Michiganders and attract businesses. “As a doctor, I had to share with people diagnoses of life-threatening conditions yet for some people their worst day wasn’t when they heard the diagnoses but trying to figure out how to pay their medical bills without bankrupting their family,” said El-Sayed.

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El-Sayed shared how GM moved a factory from Michigan to Canada because it could save money on providing healthcare because that was already afforded to the citizens of Canada. For those reasons, he wants to start a Michigan-run healthcare system that provides healthcare and would attract new businesses to set up shop there.

El-Sayed has been traveling Michigan for much of last year and will continue on a daily basis from now until the Aug. 7 primary. “When we expect 50 people we have had 150 show up at events,” he explained about the support he’s received, “and more than half of the people at the events sign up to volunteer for the campaign.” If things keep building we just may see El-Sayed follow in the footsteps of Bernie Sanders and pull off a Democratic primary win in Michigan. And if Michiganders ultimately elect El-Sayed as governor, that would be the perfect middle finger to Trump.