Abdulrahman Mohamed El-Sayed: Much More Than Just a Name

El-Sayed discusses how his experience of growing up as an Egyptian-American changed after 9/11. He is currently a Mayoral candidate for the upcoming election in Michigan and could be the first Muslim to hold the position in the United States.

This story is part of a virtual exhibition, “I Am Mohammed”, produced by Narmeen Haider and Aanjalie Collure. The project aims to subvert stereotypes by showcasing the stories of people – of all ages, sexes and nationalities – that bear the name ‘Mohammed”.

 “I am Abdulrahman Mohamed El-Sayed, and I’ve had this name since 1984. As a Muslim-American man growing up in our society, there are baggages that come with that kind of name. But for me, that part of my identity has always been fundamental to who I am, and I am very proud of my name; it’s one of the most common names in the entire world.

I was a junior in high school during 9/11, and I played football. And I remember one experience, which was the week right after 9/11, which was when football games resumed. I remember the experience of, for the first time, being teased and called a number of racial epithets that I would hear for the rest of my life. And I remember getting really frustrated on the field, and I was being pushed and shoved and pushed back–and I ended up getting 15-yard penalty and I got pulled out of the game by the coach. And the coach looked at me and said, ‘Well, what did you do that for?’, and I said, ‘Well, they were being racist; they were saying these things to me.’ He said: ‘Listen, you’re going to be Abdul El-Sayed for the rest of your life, and you can either use it as an excuse, or you can use it as motivation.’

And for me, it’s been a motivation throughout my life.

I think we, as a society, have to move beyond questions of what faith, or what you pray for, or how you pray. And rather than asking about how you pray, or who you pray to, or what direction you pray in, or what language you’re praying in, to be asking questions about what you pray for. And I know, like many Americans, that I pray for my family, and I pray for my state, and I pray for my country. And as a Democratic candidate for governor in the state of Michigan, I do believe that people in our state are asking the same kinds of questions that I’m asking, and will see beyond differences in demography to appreciate our diversity and ask questions about how we come together, for the future of our state.”

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