Hebah Kassem

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Template:TOCnestleft Hebah Kassem is an Organizing & Policy Associate at Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. Now senior legislative director at Green New Deal Network.

Activism/career

  • Abraham Aiyash for State Representative, Senior Advisor, Apr 2020 – Present.
  • Democratic Virginia State Senate Campaign, Finance Director.
  • Company NameDemocratic Virginia State Senate Campaign, Jul 2019 – Oct 2019.
  • Emgage USA, Jan 2019 – Aug 2019.
  • Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI) Feb 2017 – Jan 2019.
  • Dearborn Heights City Council Campaign, Deputy Campaign Manager, Mar 2017 – Dec 2017.
  • Abdullah Hammoud for State Representative, House District 15, Field Director.
  • Matrix Human Services, Health Associate, Aug 2015 – Jun 2016.[1]

Socialist Muslim

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Election night in November 2016 gave Hebah Kassem hope for progressive political change in our country.

Of course, that was the night Donald Trump was elected president, even carrying Kassem’s home state of Michigan in the process. But the results were not all tragic. Kassem had spent the previous months working as the field director for the campaign of her friend Abdullah Hammoud to represent their hometown of Dearborn in the state legislature. Hammoud won, becoming the first Arab-American and first Muslim to represent Dearborn. A young, progressive voice was headed to the Michigan Statehouse, and Kassem had a lot to do with it.

Hammoud’s victory showed Kassem that she was ready to do advocacy work full-time. Trump’s victory showed her that she was needed. “That is when things came together for me: there was a real progressive movement starting and there was real injustice that needed to be confronted,” she says. “And I realized my beliefs made the work a natural for me.”

Those beliefs were shaped growing up in a Muslim household in Dearborn before heading off to the University of Michigan and then to earn a Masters in Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Respecting and pushing for human rights is just second nature to me, and I did not understand until recently how much my religion shaped that,” she says. “We were not a super-religious family, but we were always taught at home and at Islamic school that the foundation of Islam is an obligation to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met.”

After Hammoud’s campaign, Kassem went to work for other progressive candidates and organized communities of color to advocate for racial and health equity. In 2018, she and her entire family proudly cast their votes for Rashida Tlaib to represent them in Congress. Kassem now works in Washington, D.C. as well, advocating for Medicare for All and other progressive legislation.

Like Rep. Tlaib, Kassem joined the Democratic Socialists of America, embracing a long legacy of Islamic commitment to equality before God and a right for all to access life’s necessities. A group of young DSA members recently convened the group’s first-ever DSA Muslim Caucus. As an example of the relationship between Islam and socialism, they point to one of the faith’s five pillars, zakat, which goes beyond charity to require Muslims of means to contribute a significant share of their wealth to those in need.

Zakat is often compared to a tax, but in some ways is more just than the current U.S. tax system: surplus possessions as well as income are included in the zakat calculation. Tax shelters do not hide wealth from Allah. Another reliable American strategy for increasing wealth disparity, charging interest on loans, is prohibited for Muslims. “In Islam, you can own private property or a business, but if you are accumulating wealth while those around you are poor and hungry, that is definitely haram (prohibited),” Kassem says.

Dating back to the state of Medina founded by the Prophet Muhammad, these mandates served as the foundation of Muslim welfare states. The Prophet’s companion Abu Dharr al-Ghafari pushed for a redistribution of wealth, and the first caliphate Abu Bakr instituted a guaranteed minimum income. Islamic law holds that natural resources like water be held in community, not in private hands.

These principles have led observers like Anglican priest Giles Fraser to conclude, “For those of us who believe that socialism requires a religious underpinning in order to flourish, Islam feels like the future of anti-capitalism.”[2]

References

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