On June 23, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation declaring July 2022 Muslim American Heritage Month in Washington state. As a Washingtonian and a proud Somali American Muslim, the governor’s proclamation means honoring and celebrating the many distinct cultures of our Muslim neighbors.
Washingtonian Muslims are diverse, including immigrant and refugee communities from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gambia, Pakistan, Senegal, Somalia, Syria, Vietnam and more. I want to highlight just a few ways that our diversity makes us strong:
Washingtonian Muslims are advocates. As front-line workers, Washingtonian Muslims play a key role in keeping Washingtonians healthy and our economy running in essential industries, including during the pandemic. Where there were serious gaps in health care services and information accessibility, organizations such as MAPS-MCRC, Somali Health Board and the Afghan Health Initiative performed language accessibility outreach and COVID-19 testing. They advocated for legislation that would allow refugee health care professionals to practice in Washington state and ease our overburdened health care system.
Washingtonian Muslims are resilient. Washingtonian Muslims are affected by Islamophobic policies such as “Muslim and African Bans,” as well as police brutality, racial inequity, lack of safety for essential workers during COVID-19, financial exclusion and lack of access to adequate health care. Yet despite the hardships, the Muslim community has remained resilient and interconnected, working to ensure that resources and support are delivered to the people who need it most. CAIR Washington plays a key role in providing civil rights support and legal help to Muslims in Washington state.
Washingtonian Muslims are engaged. Washingtonian Muslims are invested in local politics, where a record number of Muslims are running for office and making history:
• In 2019, Riaz Khan was the first Muslim elected to Mukilteo’s city council.
• In 2021, Port of Seattle Commissioner Hamdi Mohamed made history as the first Somali woman elected to public office in Washington state, and the first Black woman elected to the Port of Seattle Commission.
Washingtonian Muslims are flourishing. Washingtonian Muslims are small business owners and help our economy thrive. From countless restaurants to ethnic stores, doctors’ offices and services providers — chances are you’ve had a great experience at a Muslim-owned business perhaps without even knowing it.
This July, and all year long, I am proud to celebrate the diversity of Washington’s Muslim communities. The road to building a more equitable Washington is a long one, where true change requires dismantling systems of oppression. We have a long way to go.
As advocates in the Muslim communities push for this to be an annual event, I encourage everyone in Washington state to celebrate the contributions of Muslim Americans, and educate themselves on the rich history of Muslims in the U.S. Muslims have been part of the fabric of this country since its inception, as up to 25% of African slaves who were brought to this country were of Muslim descent. We can never forget the contributions to American culture that the Black American Muslim community, in particular, has made nationally and locally.
The Muslim American Heritage Month proclamation is a commitment to combat the prejudice and persistent discrimination faced by Muslims throughout Washington state. With the rise of global Islamophobia, anti-Muslim state policies and hate incidents at our places of worship, it is long overdue that we recognize the contributions Muslims have made for centuries and celebrate our diverse heritage.