On June 10th, 2021, the U.S Senate appointed the first American Muslim federal judge, Zahid N. Quraishi, “the son of Pakistani immigrants,” is also the first Asian American to serve on the federal bench in New Jersey.
Prior to his historic nomination, the White House said he “served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey from 2008 to 2013. Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s office, Judge Quraishi served as an assistant chief counsel at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also served as a military prosecutor and achieved the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and 2006.”
REACTION FROM THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY
“Mr. Quraishi will be the first American Muslim in United States history to serve as an Article III federal judge. The third largest religion in the United States, and he will become the first to ever serve as an Article III judge,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Around the world and more specifically in the United States, the confirmation of Quraishi was celebrated but also welcomed with some concerns.
1. HIS PAST
In fact, Zahid Quraishi’s work as an ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s) lawyer and detention advisor during the Iraq war is deemed controversial.
America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee stating:
“We appreciate President Biden’s efforts to appoint federal judges with diverse backgrounds and unique professional experiences, including nominees with experience as civil rights attorneys and public defenders. We also welcome the administration’s effort to enrich the federal judiciary with American Muslim judges. Muslim attorneys contribute greatly to our nation as civil rights attorneys, public defenders and in many other roles.
“However, questions remain about aspects of Judge Zahid Quraishi’s background, including his service as a legal advisor to military detention centers and private contractors during the occupation of Iraq, and his role with ICE during the final years of the Bush administration.
“We encourage Judge Quraishi to thoroughly explain his activities in these roles, and we encourage senators to ask detailed questions about these roles. In particular, what legal opinions did Judge Quraishi offer during his work as a detention adviser during the occupation of Iraq? Did he become aware of prisoner abuse or other misconduct during his time there? If so, how did he respond? Did he provide any legal guidance to Blackwater as part of his legal aid to private contractors? These and other questions must be addressed.”
Journalist Aymann Ismail investigated the confirmation of the controversial judge and gathered some impressions from the community: ‘But privately, some Muslim Americans—including lawyers, elected officials, and political operatives—are arguing among themselves about the choice. Many are hostile to it. They say the Biden administration sidestepped many Muslim American civil rights organizations to nominate Quraishi, and that many of his legal positions are unknown. Most troublingly to them, they point to his résumé, specifically his past work as a lawyer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and, while serving in the military during the Iraq war, as a “detention advisor” while deployed.
“I believe it’s the wrong guy,” said one Muslim former elected official in New Jersey, who asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity of the nomination. “Ask any African American how happy they are about Clarence Thomas. It’s a very similar perspective at a bunch of different levels,” he said.’
2. HIS HERITAGE
The confirmation of Quraishi is being celebrated by the Asian American community. “He is a model for the outstanding contributions that Pakistani and Muslim Americans make to this country every day. We are grateful to President Biden for nominating him, and to members of the Senate for confirming him today,” said Dr. Ijaz Ahmad, chairman of the American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee.
Asad M. Khan, ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, congratulated Quraishi on his confirmation and expressed his pride as a fellow Pakistani descent
3. HIS RELIGIOSITY VS ‘AMERICANITY’
‘What do you know about Sharia law?’ This very problematic question was asked by a US Senator to Quraishi during his nomination hearings. This particular question highlights the many layers and harsh reality many Americans that have multiple identities face every day.
The question suggests that being Muslim and American is being caught up between two dichotomous identities, between your “Americanity” and “Islamity.” The particularity of American Muslims is that they draw on their identities with religiosity and by taking comfort in their faith. You do not need to be claiming your “Americanity” to be American and Muslim.
TOKENIZATION OR REPRESENTATION?
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey called Mr. Quraishi “a man of integrity, a consummate public servant, and a trailblazer for Asian Americans and Muslim Americans across this country who dream of one day presiding over a court of their own.” He added: “We should all draw inspiration from his story, because it is a story that could only take place in the United States of America.”
For many, the nomination of Quraishi is an attempt to appeal to the millions of Muslim Americans and is a misrepresentation of the community. The American Muslim Bar Association released a statement expressing their mixed feelings:
‘Judge Zahid Quraishi’s nomination represents a significant first step in ensuring adequate representation of the Muslim community on the federal bench.
The Administration’s failure to consult major legal activists in the Muslim community preceding Judge Quraishi’s nomination was a missed opportunity to build trust and to find common ground in nominating a Muslim judge who can adequately and unbiasedly address the legal issues plaguing our underrepresented populations. To that end, we hope the administration will in the future nominate judges who represent Muslim Americans not only from a diversity standpoint, but who also personify the values needed to ensure equal justice for all.’
Many people have different opinions and perspectives but this remains a historical event. This is a first in U.S. history and is inspiring many generations that know that they have a room in the high offices of the United States.
What do you think? Is it tokenization or representation? And is all representation good? Let us know on social media.