Michigan doctor believes US ready for first Muslim governor

In this Aug. 8, 2017, photo, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed high-fives supporter Sonique Watson in Detroit. Perhaps no state has embraced the political outsider as much as Michigan. El-Sayed, a 32-year-old liberal doctor, is putting that affinity for newcomers to the test by mounting a surprisingly strong bid to become the nation’s first Muslim governor. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

DETROIT (AP) — Perhaps no state has embraced the political outsider as much as Michigan, where a venture capitalist won the last two governor’s elections and a real estate baron carried the presidential vote. Now Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is putting that affinity for newcomers to the test.

El-Sayed, a 32-year-old liberal doctor in Detroit, is mounting a surprisingly robust bid to become the nation’s first Muslim governor.


In this Aug. 8, 2017, photo, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed talks with Jermaine Jones in Detroit. Perhaps no state has embraced the political outsider as much as Michigan. El-Sayed, a 32-year-old liberal doctor, is putting that affinity for newcomers to the test by mounting a surprisingly strong bid to become the nation’s first Muslim governor. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Democratic leaders are stunned by the sudden emergence of the former Rhodes scholar, who served as Detroit public health director, in the primary field after he quickly raised $1 million.

He is one of four viable Democrats and, for now, three Republicans in a race that his party considers a must-win to re-establish itself after eight years of GOP control of state government.

Michigan has one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, but is it ready to elect a Muslim as chief executive? El-Sayed says yes, though he insists the election will be about his qualifications and grass-roots movement.

“I think folks are looking for something fresh, new, exciting, competent. And we offer that,” said the self-assured El-Sayed, who emphasizes his work rebuilding Detroit’s health department after the city’s bankruptcy.

Political insiders are not sure about the religious complexities but are impressed by his fundraising.

“No one expected El-Sayed to raise that kind of money — no one,” said pollster Ed Sarpolus.

The governor’s race in 2018 is wide open with Republican incumbent Rick Snyder, a former business executive, leaving after two terms. Before Republicans swept to power in 2010, Democrats held the governor’s office and one house of the Legislature.

The diverse Democratic field includes front-runner Gretchen Whitmer, a former legislative leader who has raised $1.5 million and has secured labor union support; Shri Thanedar, an immigrant entrepreneur from India who has given his campaign $3.3 million but remains largely unknown for now; and Bill Cobbs, an African-American former Xerox executive who has not collected much money.

The leading GOP contender is state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who joined the race this week. Other Republicans running are Dr. Jim Hines, who has given $438,000 of his own money, and conservative state Sen. Patrick Colbeck.

El-Sayed, the son of Egyptian immigrants, was born in Michigan and grew up in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. His father and stepmother are mechanical engineering professors who now work as college administrators.

El-Sayed has been known for his speaking ability since his days at the University of Michigan, where he gave the senior speech to fellow graduates. The commencement speaker that day, former President Bill Clinton, said he wished “every person in the world” who is pessimistic about the nation’s religious divide could have heard El-Sayed, who talked about the many opportunities at hand to “change the world.”

Potentially the most progressive candidate in the field, El-Sayed frequently touts government’s ability to help people and cites his initiatives in Detroit to provide free glasses to schoolchildren and increase lead exposure tests.

He criticizes unauthentic “corporate, bought-out” politicians and disavows corporate PAC donations. His fundraising base is dominated by physicians, tech executives and financiers, many from out of state.

El-Sayed is hoping to benefit from an energized Democratic backlash against President Trump, who narrowly carried Michigan in 2016, and from the repercussions of a lead contamination scandal in the city of Flint blamed primarily on Snyder’s administration. Trump has imposed a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries and blamed “both sides” for violence between white supremacists and their opponents in Virginia.

“What better way to send Donald Trump a message than to elect a millennial Muslim guy in a state that he barely took?” said El-Sayed, a former college lacrosse player with a stocky build.

Just two Muslims serve in Congress, neither with an Arabic surname: Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana. El-Sayed and Deedra Abboud, a Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, are among the first Muslims to pursue major statewide offices.

In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 42 percent of U.S. adults said they would be less likely to support a Muslim presidential candidate. El-Sayed, who has faced attacks on social media because of his Islamic faith, keeps his campaign office location secret for safety reasons.

While Whitmer is considered the Democratic favorite, political analysts believe El-Sayed could appeal to anti-establishment activists and backers of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in next summer’s primary.

One voter whom El-Sayed has won over is Sonique Watson, a 26-year-old professional blogger from Detroit who said she felt “a spark” because he is approachable and seems more like a passionate public servant than a politician. She likes his focus on the Flint crisis and not cutting “costs and corners” in government.

“All Abdul has to do is speak. He caught me just speaking,” Watson said.

Yet there are skeptics.

Former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Whitmer backer, said he questions nominating a candidate without “serious experience” in office.

“There’s no reason for people to fool around here and take a flyer with someone who can give a nice speech but really is not ready for the job,” he said.

Jermain Jones, a 37-year-old Detroit-area political organizer, said it is impossible to overlook the impact of El-Sayed’s religion in rural or blue-collar areas.

“Even the Democratic establishment I don’t think is ready to push an Islamic candidate in a state like Michigan,” Jones said. “Islamophobia is strong in America right now.”

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David Eggert


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  • Sandi, heartfelt greetings, but I’m not quite sure that your question is fair. That is to say, even if he were related to the individual you have cited, he cannot fairly be held to account for someone else’s actions regardless of any biological or spiritual connection. Each of us is accountable to God for our own choices and actions, as you well know.

  • Primarially;
    Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”
    Second is the reality of the Trojan horse:

    Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

    Quran (4:76) – “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…”
    Quran (4:104) – “And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain…”
    Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”
    Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”
    Quran (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

    Quran (4:34) – “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.”

    If I didn’t need to not use too much data (on vacation) I would submit more reasons.

  • So Muslims also have verses in their scripture which people use as justification for acting obnoxiously towards others. They apparently have a lot in common with you and your take on Christianity. Sharia minds think alike.

    After all you generally the first one to chime in on any article about a religion other than Christianity to declare its adherents to be the damned!

  • I don’t disagree with you on the question of the errors of Islam and the Quran, but that is not to the point of your question regarding the candidate for Governor of Michigan. I view it as my responsibility to try and win souls for Christ, and I have to take them where they are, not question and condemn them for their error which results from being deceived by our common enemy, Satan. I too was once so deceived. As such, any correction must come from evidence supported in fact. Guilt by association without the testimony of credible witnesses is not a precept I find in the biblical text, which is precisely why I was troubled by the nature of your question, it did not seem germane to the question of the Governor’s contest. Whether he can govern effectively within the context of his religious belief system is a question which must be addressed for a later day. And as I’ve seen many putatively Christian politicians fail miserably in their personal and political responsibilities, I see no reason to judge this candidate before his performance can be objectively measured.

  • Islam is much more dangerous than Christianity
    Talk to ex Muslims and they will tell you how they feel betrayed by the so called liberals who should be on their side after they leave the faith.

    Some don’t come out to their families as being atheist because literally, their families will kill them.

    Sorry, but Christianity is nowhere near as violent as Islam
    It already went through it’s growing pains, past the Old Testament.

  • Just wanted to point out that Calgary’s mayor has been highly successful with his Muslim faith not a barrier. The City of London also has a Muslim mayor and he had been a MP in the UK parliament for 10 years preceding. So faith is not necessarily an obstacle, but if it is, it could be so for any faith given the variety of perspectives within each.

  • Oh please. The people who do the most yammering about, “creeping sharia” are the ones who don’t have a problem with theocratic dictatorship. They just want their religion as the one in control.

    Christianity has its own history of being violent. Still is when you see what goes on in the developing world. It is not the religions which are the factor here. It’s how much they have been rebuked and reigned in by secular forces. When most countries in the middle east had nationalist secular governments (from independence to about 1980) most of these excesses were curbed. But with the rise of fundamentalism and the politics of islamicism reversed all of that.

    That being said, I am not going to demonize a candidate for public office on the basis of just being a member of a given religion.

  • If he is referring to himself as Muslim, he is a follower of what I posted, or some, or all. Yes, he needs us, but, will not see that until Christ shows him. Until then, I’ll not vote for someone calling themselves a Muslim.

  • “At least we’re not as bad as the Muslims…”
    The current cri de coeur of the religious right. It is truly damning with fiant praise indeed!

  • Well, if I tell a Christian that I hate Jesus, they’ll pray for me.
    If I said the same about Mohummand (or drew him) my life would be in danger.
    Remember that draw Mohummand contest in Texas?
    Police killed two terrorists that came to kill the contestants.
    And people from the left and right blamed the contest rather than the terrorists.

  • Religious bigotry informing your election choices are duly noted.

    Frankly I would not vote for anybody guys would find appealing.

  • I understand your preferences both spiritually and politically, I’m merely noting that any linkage or lack thereof to the physician performing genital mutilation is not his responsibility unless he were a participant in the practice.

  • That is a legitimate consideration for any voter, I will concede. Whether that will be a consideration for Michigan voters, or an issue in the campaign, only time will tell.