Rashad Hussain confirmed as first Muslim ambassador for religious freedom to the United States

(RNS) – Rashad Hussain has been confirmed as the U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, making him the first American Muslim to hold the post.

Hussain was confirmed by the US Senate on Thursday (December 16) by an overwhelming majority of 85 to 5.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has welcomed the decision regarding Hussain, who served as director of partnerships and global engagement on the National Security Council.

“With his years of knowledge and experience, Ambassador Hussain is well positioned to advance the promotion of international religious freedom by the US government,” USCIRF President Nadine Maenza said in a statement.

Hussain, 42, previously served as White House legal adviser under the Obama administration, special envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and US special envoy to the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.

When President Joe Biden announced his appointment as Hussain in July, the White House highlighted his work to combat anti-Semitism and defend religious minorities in majority Muslim countries. Hussain, who served as a court clerk at the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals and editor of the Yale Law Journal, speaks Spanish, Arabic, and Urdu. He is also a hafiz, or someone who has memorized the whole Quran in Arabic.

“(A) As a Muslim American, I have seen the impact of fanatic and guilt-by-association tactics used against minority communities, including the message they send and the dangers they pose to young people. “Hussain said in his prepared remarks at the October confirmation hearing. .

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The Muslim Public Affairs Council hailed Hussain’s new role.

“Rashad has served our community and our country at the highest level of integrity and intelligence”, noted MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati. “Above all, he has served as a mentor and role model to Americans of all walks of life, sharing with them the importance of public service and serving our country.”

Sam Brownback, who served as a religious freedom ambassador during the Trump administration, had applauded the recent movement of the confirmation process for Hussain and applauded his result.

“Religious persecution is rampant around the world and the international community looks to the United States for leadership that can make a difference,” said Brownback, now a senior member of the international persecution watchdog Open Doors USA, in a press release. “That is why I am happy that Rashad Hussain has been confirmed by a two-party senatorial majority.”

A former religious freedom ambassador, Rabbi David Saperstein, joined Princeton University professor Robert P. George in supporting Hussain during his confirmation hearing. The two men, who noted in a comment to the Religion News Service that they had very different political perspectives, said Hussain was determined to protect the rights of Christians and had garnered deep respect in the Muslim community.

“Hussain enjoys enormous credibility with a wide range of faith groups, building on years of leadership in efforts for religious freedom,” they wrote. “His appointment has garnered enthusiastic praise from groups ranging from the Commission on Ethics and Religious Freedom of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance to the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as much praise from the Muslim community.

The Secular Coalition for America also joined in congratulating Hussain on the confirmation vote.

“The Ambassador has the potential to be a powerful voice for the rights of non-theists and apostates who face persecution abroad,” tweeted the organization, which represents atheist, humanist and free-thinker groups. “SCA is looking forward to working with him. “

White House candidate for anti-Semitism envoy, Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, has yet to have a confirmation hearing after being appointed in July on the same day as Hussain.

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