Posted on November 14, 2021

Hamtramck City Council Will Be All Muslim, Likely First in US

Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, November 5, 2021

The six-member City Council of Hamtramck will consist of all Muslims starting in January, another historic first for the metro Detroit city known for its sizable immigrant population.

The newly elected mayor, Amer Ghalib, 42, is also Muslim, which means all of the city’s elected officials will be Muslim.

In Tuesday’s election, three candidates who are all Muslim were elected and will join three current City Council members who are also Muslim. Five of them are immigrants and one is a convert to Islam with ancestral roots in eastern Europe.

Advocates with Muslim groups and experts say they do not know of any other city council in the history of the U.S. that has been entirely Muslim.

Council members told the Free Press that religion will not play a role in their decisions.


Khalil Refai, one of the three council candidates elected on Tuesday, was the top vote-getter.

Refai said he will be focused on policy issues and that he respects the religious diversity of the city, which was once known as a Polish Catholic enclave.


The percentage of Muslim residents in Hamtramck is not clear since the U.S. census does not ask about religion.

But estimates based on census ancestry data suggest that about half are Muslim. About 25% of the city is of Arab descent, most of them Yemeni, and an additional 27% is of Asian ancestry, most of them Bangladeshi, according to 2019 census data. Almost all Yemenis are Muslim, while Bangladeshi Americans in Hamtramck are a mix of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian.

There are also some Bosnian Muslims and African American Muslims living in Hamtramck.

Out of the six council members, three will be of Yemeni descent, two of Bangladeshi descent and one who is white.

Hamtramck drew attention in 2015 when it elected its first Muslim-majority City Council. The city’s population has spiked 27% over the past decade.


In both Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, the new city councils will each have three members who are Muslim. Voters in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck all elected Muslim mayors for the first time.


Seeking a fifth four-year term, Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski lost Tuesday to challenger Ghalib, a health care worker who won with 68.5% of the vote, while Majewski received 31.5%. Four years ago, Majewski defeated Hassan, 61% to 38%. In 2017, Majewski got the support of some Yemeni Americans to win, but this time, the community came out for Ghalib, an immigrant from Yemen.

The mayor in Hamtramck has always been Polish-American Catholic since it became incorporated as a city 100 years ago. But today, the city is only 6.8% Polish, according to 2019 census data.


During the campaign, Majewski and Ghalib clashed over LGBTQ issues: She favored flying the LGBTQ pride flag outside City Hall, which he opposed.

The issue split the Muslims on the council.

In a vote earlier this year, three Muslim councilmen opposed displaying the flag while two supported it, reported Pride Source in June. Majewski cast the tie-breaking vote to fly the Pride flag after the council deadlocked at 3-3.


Another issue that some in the Muslim community in Hamtramck and some councilmembers have raised concerns about is the selling of marijuana, which was legalized by voters in Michigan in 2018, but was more likely to be opposed in heavily Muslim precincts in Hamtramck.

Some in the Muslim community have raised concerns about the opening of new stores in their neighborhoods selling marijuana.