University alum could be first Muslim woman in Congress

Monday, October 23, 2017 - 5:15pm

Fayrouz Saad, who is currently running for Congress in Michigan’s 11th District, says her political story started right in her dorm, freshman year at the University of Michigan.

As a Muslim and Arab 18-year-old after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Saad’s parents took her home from campus, wary of the discriminatory backlash against their identities.

But to Saad’s relief, waiting at her dorm was a collection of her roommates and friends, welcoming her home and ensuring her they would help combat hate. From that moment on, Saad knew she wanted to dedicate herself to protecting those values.

“It was just this really fine moment of humanism that was so very much what our country’s about and really profound experience that impacted me for the rest of my life,” Saad said. “That is America and that is what America should represent.”

Even today, Saad keeps up with events on the University of Michigan campus, and the racially charged incidents that have happened recently have only reiterated what she wants to fight against.

“It broke my heart when I heard about the racially charged hate crimes on campus because I don’t remember hearing about any of that even after 9/11. I remember quite the opposite,” Saad said. “That got me thinking about why I want to get in public service. I really want to protect ... our values. I want to fight for those values that I know we all believe in.”

Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, decided not to run in the 2018 congressional race, leaving no incumbent to run against, and making what used to be a clearly Republican leaning district more of a toss-up between new Republican and Democratic runners. College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment. 

Still, Saad said she has a long road ahead of her. If elected, she will be the first Muslim woman in Congress, setting a precedent that could mean a lot for younger generations looking to get involved with politics.

“I think what I'm trying to do is change the face of leadership and that starts at the most grassroot level –– college campuses,” Saad said. “Just get involved. Get engaged on campus.”

Public Policy senior Nadine Jawad, Central Student Government vice president, said seeing a Muslim woman continue to break the glass ceiling and strive for positions of power was inspirational.

“I believe she is doing the work that lays the foundation for girls and women, including myself, to keep shattering the glass ceiling,” Jawad said.

Jawad said Muslim women are particularly underrepresented in all levels of government. She added while there is diversity within the Muslim world itself, Fayrouz is a great step in the right direction for the community.

“Fayrouz is challenging the normalization of this exclusion and setting an example to empower others to run for office,” Jawad said. “Muslims aren’t a monolith and within our identity we have a lot of diversity, but I believe it is important to have Muslim voices in all levels of governments, as so often decisions are made about us without us.”

Prior to this campaign, Saad worked on John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, in the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security department and was the director of immigrant and international affairs for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Students on campus seem to be enthusiastic about Saad’s campaign. LSA junior Meaghan Wheat said Saad has a lot of merit and would be a step in the right direction regardless of her identity.

“I’m interested in following her campaign, and definitely support the need for a different representative in District 11,” Wheat said. “She seems to have good experience in government.”

Public Policy junior Zoha Qureshi agreed with Jawad in that diversity in government is necessary to involve all perspectives in the process. Qureshi, a CSG representative, said Saad’s story is particularly inspiring to her political aspirations.

“Especially in today's political climate, it's super important to increase diversity in our government at all levels,” Qureshi said. “With diversity comes more representation, more perspectives, and a stronger understanding of each other and how we can collectively and positively impact our communities. As a woman and a minority interested in public office myself, I love that Fayrouz Saad is running.”

Saad said her focus for her Congressional race will be on health care, as she wants to work toward universal health care. She also cited economic growth as a goal, and wants to incentivize automation within the economy. Saad said she hopes that in implementing these goals she inspires younger generations to set lofty political goals.

“U of M is probably one of the most dynamic campuses. It’s right for activism and student engagement in so many ways,” Saad said. “Find an issue or cause you believe in and become a leader on campus.”