Washington — When Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and a group of colleagues called for a probe into “security concerns” over the employment of several Muslims in top government positions, Democrats and Republicans joined in condemning the call and in accusing those behind it of Islamophobia.
Yet, shining the spotlight on the issue of Muslim Americans in senior federal government positions also revealed a little-noticed truth: There aren’t many of them. In fact, less than a handful of Muslims hold top posts, and in general, activists believe, Muslim Americans are underrepresented in the civil service.
“Most Muslims in government are at the more junior levels,” said Haris Tarin, Washington office director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “There is no one in Cabinet level, no one at the deputy secretary level.”’
Muslims in America have been growing in numbers over the past decade. According to a recent study by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, 2.6 million Muslims were living in America in 2010. This is roughly in line with a study produced by the Pew Research Center last year that also found that 63% of American Muslims were first-generation immigrants.
Yet, Muslims in senior federal positions are still a rarity. Currently, the most noted ones in the Obama administration include Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (and wife of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner); Rashad Hussain, who is America’s special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Farah Pandith, the State Department’s special representative to Muslim communities. Two out of 535 members of Congress are also Muslim, both Democrats: Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Indiana’s André Carson. Several other Muslims serve on federal advisory boards, including Dalia Mogahed, who advised the White House office of faith-based and neighborhood initiatives, and Mohamed Elibiary, who has consulted for the Department of Homeland Security.