As a Muslim woman, I practice the religion of Islam, an Abrahamic faith like Judaism and Christianity. As a lawyer, I have represented thousands of clients, including religious congregations which have been victims of crime and harassment. I have stood up for them in our courts, defending their rights and championing their voices. As the granddaughter of African American Christians, I have grown up in a family that modeled respect for my mother’s decision to become Muslim, and raise me accordingly when I was four years old.
My upbringing enriched me with the agency to stand up for religious freedoms at a time when attacks on worshippers grew increasingly bloody and violent. When Dylann Roof massacred black worshippers in their South Carolina church, I called for him to be charged with a hate crime. When Yusor, Razan Abu-Salha, and Deah Barakat were executed in their home by a man who hated the girls’ visibly Muslim identities, I stood in solidarity with their family. Dr. Abu Salha, the father of the girls, asked that his emotional reflection on the death of his only children, reducing us to tears, in a conference on Islamophobia I helped organize in Albany. Hate stole the lives of three young people.
I’ve prayed with friends in synagogues, linking our hands when their houses of worship received threats of violence. It has been my honor to give a guest sermon in a local church, bridging our communities and sharing in faith. I have visited many mosques, and I have embraced members of our community who do not claim a faith. In 2015, I was invited to the White House, where I joined President Barack Obama’s senior administration for a program entitled ‘Celebrating and Protecting America's Tradition of Religious Pluralism.’ There, I called on his administration to do even more to protect worshippers in exercising their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
It is not for me to judge how people interpret and interact with religious text or thought, regardless of my own views. In matters of religion, I do not admonish or persuade others to my way of thinking, for I believe in the free exercise of faith, and the secular foundations of our democracy and constitution. Unfortunately, I have not been treated with the same respect. During this campaign, I have been confronted with religious intolerance, slander, and hate. Most recently, a reporter challenged me to condemn opinions posted by a Muslim community. The reporter recognized that these writings were not authored by me, promoted, discussed, or ever spoken about by me. Still, the reporter deliberately gave these writings to my campaign endorsers in an attempt to alarm them, and force them to question their support and relationships with me.
My friends, neighbors, and community hold a special place in my heart. This love is not new. It has always been here. I am proud of my history here.
Since I was a teenager, I have fought for community safety in Springfield. In our local courts, I represent families who have been the victims of violence, abuse, and neglect. I educate the public on little known policies which have a major impact on immigrants, the poor, and people of color. I fight relentlessly to uphold the right to practice religion freely, and to keep people from imposing their religious beliefs on others. I continue to fight to protect women’s rights to healthcare and options which respect their personal autonomy and dignity. I passionately represent individuals of all sexual orientations and identities, all races, and all demographics across all socioeconomic lines, and I always will.
My work has been widely recognized in this community. I was recognized as dean’s choice for Alumni of the Year for Western New England University School of Law, and I was recognized as a Top Woman in Law by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. During this campaign, we have made incredible strides and received endorsements by significant civic and political organizations, as well as people who believe in our movement.
But it is my representation of the community known as Islamberg which seems to animate those who seek to spread hate and ignorance the most. Islamberg is a small rural neighborhood in upstate New York which has been relentlessly attacked with lies in print, online, and on Fox News. In 2017 a man was convicted for threatening to burn down the mosque and kill the children with machetes, because his hatred of Muslims ran so deep. I served as co-counsel to the congregation and helped the FBI and Department of Justice convict him. He was sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail. Judge Curtis Collier, who oversaw the prosecution, stated at the conclusion of the trial, “the people of Islamberg have the right to practice their religion as they see fit.” He also stated that these families, who were victimized by the defendant and online hate mongers, were hard working people who just wanted to raise their children peacefully. This is a universal goal, is it not? We all want to live our best lives, work hard, and raise our families in peace.
I will never give in to those who seek to spread hate and ignorance. I have spent my life and career standing up for the victims of people like that, and I always will. It is time to move beyond this distraction and focus on improving the lives of the people in the First District. That is what my campaign is about, and that is what I will continue to focus on.
August 10, 2018