Life in a Muslim Majority City in the U.S.A

Hamtramick, a city in Michigan, USA. When you walk in the center of this place, you feel as if you are traveling the world. It is lined with shops selling Polish sausages, Eastern European bakeries, Yemeni department stores and Bengali cloth shops. Church bells are ringing over the city and the time of Islamic prayer is broadcast. In Hamtramik, 30 languages are said to be spoken over an area of 5 square kilometers. For this he was nicknamed “the world of two square miles.” But recently, a historic event took place with a hamtram with a population of 28 thousand people. 100% of Muslims were elected mayor, and city councilors were elected by voting. As a result, Hamtramik became the first site in the United States to be attended by American Muslims. There was a time when Muslims were discriminated against here too. However, now Muslims make up more than half of the city’s population and have become an integral part of it.
Of course, there are economic hardships and fierce cultural debates. However, the inhabitants of Hamtramik, belonging to different religious and cultural backgrounds, coexist relatively harmoniously. As a result, the site is gaining attention as a future example of America’s expanded diversity. So, is Hamtramik an exceptional case? Or is it a sample of time? Hamtramik was previously a city of German settlers. Today it is the United States’ first Muslim-majority city. Traces of this change are visible throughout the streets. Signs in Arabic and Bengali in store windows, colorful embroidered Bangladeshi costumes, Yemen-specific daggers, Jambia and Muslim residents line up to buy pachiki, Polish custard donuts.

“(Hamtramik) is a place where you can easily see people with tattoos in miniskirts and people in burqas on one street,” said Zlatan Sadikovic, a Bosnian immigrant who owns a cafe in Hamtramik. It once belonged to the heart of the American auto industry. There was a General Motors plant, and the first Cadillac “El Dorado” was also produced by Hamtramic in the 1980s. In the second half of the 20th century Polish immigrants flocked to Hamtramik to find work. In the 1970s, 90% of the city was Polish, nicknamed “Little Warsaw”. In 1987 Pope John Paul II paid a visited the United States. Since then, however, the US auto industry has entered a recession. Once the young and able-bodied Poles fled to the suburbs, Hamtramik had become one of the poorest cities in Michigan. However, other poor immigrants flocked to the area due to the low cost of housing. Over the past three decades, Hamtramik has once again become a settlement for migrants from Arab and Asian countries, especially from Yemen and Bangladesh. Today about 42% of the population hails from other countries and it is estimated that more than half of them to be Muslim. The newly formed municipality clearly shows the changed proportion of Hamtramik’s population. As soon as session begins it is recorded that one Polish American, two Bengali Americans and three Yemeni Americans will enter parliament.
And Amer Ghalib, with 68% of the vote, is about to become the first American Yemeni mayor in the United States. “I feel proud and honored but I also feel a lot of responsibility,” he said. Ghalib, 41, was born in Yemen. He moved to the United States at the age of 17 and worked at an auto parts plant near Hamtramik. After that, he studied English, studied to receive a medical degree and now works as a doctor. City council-elect Amanda Zatskoski, 29, said the Hamtramik is more of a “seven-layer cake” than a “melting pot” or “salad bowl.” This does not mean that different groups mix to create one color, but that they coexist closely while maintaining their own culture. “Residents of Hamtramik are proud of their heritage and culture. If these cultures are mixed together, they lose their uniqueness. Living next to each other means accepting differences. ” Current mayor Karen Majewski, who is about to retire after 15 years as mayor, said Hamtramik “was not Disneyland.” “It’s just a small town where people live. There are also conflicts. ” In fact, in 2004, controversy arose over a vote to circulate ads for Islamic prayers in public places. There is also opinion that the banning of pubs near mosques is hurting the local economy. Six years ago, when Hamtramik formed America’s first Muslim-majority city council, media coverage began to cover it. At the time, some described it as “a place of increased tension” due to the influx of Muslims. The presenter of the state TV company even asked if Mayor Mayevsky was afraid to take over as mayor in such an environment. Some have even put forward the prospect that the Muslim-majority city council will introduce Islamic Sharia. “Residents of Hamtramik are offended by this talk,” Mayor Majewski said.
“It’s natural for newcomers to vote for a candidate who understands their experience and language,” he said. Religious information is not collected by the US Census however, the Pew Research Center has calculated that there is estimated to be around 3.85 million Muslims in the United States as of 2020 (1.1% of the total population). It has been predicted that by 2040 Islam will become the second largest religious group in the US after Christianity. Despite the growing population, Muslims in the United States often suffer from prejudice. Islamophobia (discrimination or hatred of Islam) still persecutes Muslims and other Arab Americans twenty years after the 9/11 attacks. When then President Donald Trump proposed to ban immigration from Muslim-majority countries in 2016, about half of Muslim American adults were discriminated against, according to the Pew Research Center. Of all religious groups, some studies show that Islam is the most negatively perceived by the American public.

The survey results indicated that more than half of Americans do not know a Muslim personally or in the workspace. Those who do not know Muslims are more likely to believe that Islam encourages violence than other religions. Hamtramik has a living example of how human experience can dispel Islamophobia. Shahab Ahmed is the main character. He ran for city council immediately after 9/11. However, his march was difficult. Ahmed, a Bengali American stated “There were flyers all over the city saying I was the 20th hijacker”. After losing the 2001 elections, Akhmed went to the villagers one by one, knocked on the door and introduced himself. Two years later, he became the first Muslim government official in Hamtramik. Since then, local support for the city’s Muslim community has also increased. Residents began to protest after the Trump administration imposed the travel ban restriction in 2017. Director of the documentary Hamtramik America stated “People can join the protests and unite because everyone knows that in order to live in Hamtramik, you have to respect others.”

Even at the national level, Muslim Americans are more prominent politically. The first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison was elected in 2007. There are currently four Muslim Senators in the US Congress. Muslim residents gathered in front of a polling station to greet each other, or many bragged about “I voted” stickers made to commemorate this month’s elections. Zatzkoski said the immigrants were thrilled about their participation in democracy. “It’s very American to bring people together.” But, as elsewhere, there is a fierce cultural debate in this city. A group of residents were outraged after city officials approved flags for a gay pride parade in front of the mayor’s office in June. Outraged residents of the city forcibly removed flags, including a flag hung from a vintage clothing store owned by the Mayevsky market. “This has consequences that cannot be ignored,” Majewski said. There are also voices of concern over the declining political participation of women in the conservative Muslim community.

On election night, Galip celebrated barbecue and baklava with Yemeni Americans. There were about 100 supporters at the time, all men. “Women also joined the campaign, but gender discrimination still exists,” Gallip said. Rustbelt-specific problems with outdated infrastructure and limited economic opportunities are also a problem for Hamtramic. Last summer, the rain paralyzed the sewers and flooded many houses. A sample of drinking water sources showed high levels of lead, and half of the city’s residents were below the poverty line. But even these are just some of the issues that the new government needs to urgently address. “Democracy in Muslim-majority cities is as chaotic and complex as anywhere else,” said Jafri, who directed the documentary. “So we need to stop looking at it as a novelty and do what politicians should be doing.”