Muslim City Councilmen Elected in Hamtramck

By Nargis Hakim Rahman

Two new Muslim faces have joined Hamtramck City Council on November 3, making the city council 50 percent Muslim.

According to the Detroit Free Press the number reflects the most Muslims, “in a municipality in the United States.”

Kazi Miah, 30, won with 1652 votes, the highest votes. Mohammed Kamrul Hassan, 42, received 1390 votes, 40 more than he expected. 

Hassan said he did not campaign a lot during the general election as he was working 12-hour shifts and did not take any days off from his job as a manufacturing expert at Faurecia Automotive Seating Inc.

“I had confidence. I knew I was going to get 875 votes in the primary, and 1350 votes would get me a seat,” Hassan said.

Hassan ran for city council after seeing discrimination to immigrant populations by police officers and city officials.

“I have been seeing the city administration and corruption and discrimination from police officers, how they talk when immigrant people go to the city hall,” said Hassan.

He said the city is not going in the right direction, and has changed since his move to Hamtramck in 1994.

Hassan moved from New York to Michigan to pursue his education. He holds a Bachelors of Science, with honors, and Masters in Mathematics from the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Miah, a 10-year-resident of Hamtramck, works at National City Bank in Hamtramck. He ran for office to make local government more citizen-oriented, and to encourage the youth to run for public office.

Miah holds various board positions around Hamtramck, and is the founder of Bangladeshi American Youth Action. The youth group is focused on advancing in education, engaging in community service and having recreational activities for youth.

Miah said serving city council is his way of giving back. He said he was inspired to run for government by Sayu Bhojwani, founder of a similar youth group in New York.

Hassan said taxes, budget utilization and cutting salaries are on the top of his list.

He said everywhere in the world people are cutting salaries.

“I’d like to cut salaries to survive,” he said.

Miah said the city will face tough times ahead with economy.

“This city has been in a deep end before, as far as financial stability, but we can get out of it,” he said.

Hassan said spending money better and reassessing the budget will help the city.

Miah said his priorities include being a voice for the Census. Immigrant populations are often reluctant to fill out the forms, fearing the government will come after them. He wants to stop that trend.

The Census is correlated to taxes, government funds, and public safety, as police officers are assigned based on city populations, he said.

“We have 20,000 Muslims, Bengalis, Yemenis. The Census doesn’t tell us that,” Miah said.

He said higher numbers will make politicians pay attention.

Miah’s website,, has a poll, asking for public opinions on local matters. He said he wants to be as accessible as possible, following the Obama campaign, where he served as Captain of the Voter Registration Drive.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Hamtramck. I’m trying to add to the richness this city has,” Miah said.

“If we fail, we’ll be failing as a whole.”

Hassan said he is proud to be a Muslim city councilman.

“Some people questioned me because I was Muslim. This is not a Yemeni city, a Bangladeshi city, or a Polish city. This is the city of Hamtramck.”

He said the city is his first priority, but he will not go against his religion.

“I’m going to respect my religion 100 percent,” Hassan said.

He said Islam is the religion of peace. It’s always going to be good decisions for politics.

“Our prophet Muhammad (s) got respect from all religions. He helped everybody. I’m going to treat everyone equally.”

Miah said Islam taught us to be good to your neighbors, not only Muslim neighbors. He said he wants to be a voice for everyone.

“Throughout the election no one asked me what religion I was. I sincerely believe citizens of Hamtramck just want to be taken care of,” Miah said.

Miah and Hassan are Bangadleshi Muslim Americans. They are married with two children.

Both said they are looking forward to working with the new council.


1 reply
  1. bill meyer
    bill meyer says:

    here’s a piece I wrote for the local Bangla Amar newspaper on the two new counclmen/

    Hamtramck Profiles by Bill Meyer
    New Councilmen
    Kazi Miah Interview Nov 21, 2009

    The highest vote getter for the Hamtramck council race, 30-year-old Kazi Miah, has broad appeal across all sectors of the community. Many people know his friendly face as the youthful National City bank teller who somehow feels like you should be his friend rather than just a customer. How did a young Bangladeshi kid acquire the confidence and skills needed to be a bank teller in the heart of America?
    Originally from a village outside Sylhet, the town where most Bangladeshis in Hamtramck originate from, Kazi came to New York with his family when he was just 10 years old in 1989. It was his uncle and role model, Aziz Rahman, who helped arrange to bring his entire family to America, the land of hope and dreams. Kazi’s family was poor, his father a head postman in his village, struggling to keep his family alive in one of the poorest countries in the world. His family arrived in New York with no money and knowing no English. Uncle Aziz gave his nephew a job at the family market when he was old enough to learn how to use the cash register and lottery machine at the same time. The mixed ethnic neighborhood in Queens endeared him to people of all colors and he developed a fascination for the Spanish language, which he still hopes to learn.
    But his father, who had taken on a job as dishwasher, moved his family to Hamtramck after Kazi had spent just a year at Queens College, attracted to the lower cost of living. Kazi transferred to Wayne County Community College where he continues his education to this day. He excels in school and recently won a large scholarship for the Michigan Political Leadership Program.
    He’s always had an interest in politics, in making decisions that could affect people’s lives positively. Although there was no political influence from any family member he was always taught to respect and help people in need. His Uncle Aziz, an honest and hardworking shop owner, left a deep impression on him. Also, the founder and executive director of South Asian Youth Action, Sayu Bhojwani, befriended and inspired young Kazi in youth guidance, and he developed an interest in basketball and other sports.
    His other major influence could be detected from the signs spread over his white minivan during the national election in 2004. Barack Obama’s book, “Dreams From My Father,” affected his life. Obama’s quote, “there’s no Red states or Blue states, there’s the United States,” guided his beliefs. It showed that a person of color could achieve great heights in America and prompted Kazi to become more active in politics. He served a term on the Human Relations Commission, is a current member of the Recreation Commission and the Hamtramck Drug Free Coalition, and serves on the boards of the Hamtramck NAACP and the People’s Community Services.
    Now as a newly elected councilman, Kazi plans to be active with the business community, to help balance the budget, diversify the workforce and bring the community together and make it safer. He has experience that can help handle these tough tasks. His years in the banking business, personal experience running several of his own businesses, and working with youth will assist in his goal of representing the entire community across all ages and nationalities.
    He feels there’s a strong need to get more community involvement and volunteerism, to overcome divisiveness by replacing personal political issues with the needs of the community. Kazi’s quite aware of the severe economic conditions heading our way, and the perennial political bickering in a fractured city that prevents constructive and collective thinking, but he’s hopeful and inspired by examples in his life, and Hamtramck is all the better to have such a young person committed to saving our community.

    Hamtramck Profiles
    New Councilmen
    Mohammed Hassan Interview Nov 18, 2009

    Born in the main Bangladesh seaport town of Chittagong, Mohammed Hassan, son of a politician, carries on his father’s tradition 42 years later. Exactly halfway around the world in Hamtramck, Hassan is soon to join two other Bangladeshi Muslims as city councilmen in this financially strapped town nestled within the confines of the even more economically challenged metropolis of Detroit.

    Hassan was chosen in the top 10% of 20,000 applicants to attend the prestigious English speaking University of Chittagong where he received a Masters degree in mathematics. Like so many other Bangladeshis, he chose to venture to the promised land of America and arrived in New York in 1994 with hopes of obtaining a doctorate degree. After one year, his plans changed as he headed for Central Michigan University where tuition was much more reasonable. A fateful stopover while visiting a friend in Hamtramck resulted in permanent residency after he was offered a lucrative job at Mastercraft Leather Company. Enticed by a salary offer that exceeded the best he could get from a doctorate degree in mathematics, his career took a major turn as he went from shipping and receiving coordinator to production manager to full operations manager within a short span of time. He moved on to The Leatherworks Company, to Visteon and eventually to Faurcia, and now has become established as a management leader in the auto supply industry.

    During his time in America, Hassan visited his homeland regularly. He married in 1996 and has two sons, Shanjil and Hasibul, 8 and 3 respectively, and recently his family moved here to join him. He has five brothers and five sisters residing in several countries. One brother chose to remain in his hometown following in his fathers footsteps as a politician, and a couple others now live in Qatar. Hasan has memories of the bloody war of separation in 1971 when Bangladesh was formed from East Pakistan, and he remembers George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh that raised funds for one of the world’s poorest countries suffering through a deadly famine.

    When he first came to Hamtramck, the urge to serve the community resulted in his efforts to run for vice president of the Bangladesh Association of Michigan along with presidential running mate, current councilmember Shahab Ahmed. They lost to Shamim al Haque, who is still a formidable figure in the Bangladesh community, but Hassan eventually went on to become the leader of the Chittagong Society in 2007, a group of 100 or so immigrants from his hometown in Bangladesh. Hamtramck now hosts the second largest Bangladesh community outside Bangladesh, second to New York.

    Hassan was quite confident in winning a seat on the council, but his strong win in the primary election stunned the local newspaper, which knew little about the Bangladeshi candidates or their qualifications, three of whom took the most votes. Their unwillingness to answer the local newspaper’s traditional pedantic questionnaire further alienated them from a paper they felt disrespected and misrepresented the Muslim community. Hassan’s goal has always been to support a government and media that is ‘of the people and by the people’ as he quotes Lincoln. His role of councilman will come at one of the gravest economic times the city has faced. With the loss of major tax revenue from two failing auto companies, Hamtramck, once the center of the auto industry alongside Motown, will be forced to severely tighten its belt as the newly re-elected mayor and accomplished folk dancer, Karen Majewski, dances her way around the potholes in the street of forgotten dreams.

    Balancing the budget and spending taxpayers money wisely is Hassan’s main priority. With extensive business experience managing hundreds of workers, Hasan remains hopeful that Hamtramck can survive the upcoming economic tsunami. To counteract the loss of tax revenue, rather than increase taxes, he supports reducing non-valued items and trimming spending. With connections to overseas companies, he feels with assistance from council members, the mayor and city manager, there may be hope to entice businesses and eventually more residents to the city. But this needs to be done in an air of cooperation and commitment to the community rather than for any self-interest or partisan politics. Hassan has come thousands of miles, from a giant thriving port city, to serve a small struggling town of mixed immigrants halfway around the world. But it’s in his blood as he steps up to the plate to carry on in his father’s footsteps.