Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-ik), a city in Wayne County, Michigan, a 15-minute drive from Detroit, population 23,000, which in the 20th century was known as “Little Warsaw,” a vibrant center of Polish American life and culture, in 2015 became the first majority Muslim city council in the United States. Good bye Polka, hello Debka.
The number of Polish residents has shrunk from 90% of the population in 1970 to 12% today, according to the 2010 census. Today, Muslim immigrants from Yemen – 23%, Bangladesh – 20%, and Bosnia – 7 % constitute the majority, as Muslim culture is taking over at a quick pace. Hamtramck is Michigan’s most densely populated city, and since the Chrysler, Ford and General Motors plants have closed down, Hamtramck is also one of the biggest poverty pockets in Michigan.
In last November’s election, with six candidates running for three seats (out of six council seats), the top three candidates were Muslim. Two Muslim candidates were incumbent city councilmen, the third a newcomer. The seat of another Muslim incumbent councilman was not up for re-election. With four of the six council members being Muslim, it makes Hamtramck the first US city with a Muslim majority council.
According to the Washington Post, Hamtramck’s exceptionally low home prices and surprisingly low crime rate are very attractive to third world immigrants, who can be seen everywhere. Most of the women on the streets wear hijabs, or headscarves, and niqabs, veils that leave visible only the area around the eyes. Many shop signs are in Arabic or Bengali, and some display signs telling customers the owners have gone to pray and will return shortly.
Just before dawn, the first call to prayer reverberates through the streets, urging the believers to kneel down for their first of five daily prayers, which has to be a tough task, what with the winter winds howling off Lake Erie. At the Martha Washington bakery, the only neighborhood establishment open this early other than the Al-Islah Mosque around the corner, a woman who wasn’t wearing a burqa told a Telegraph reporter she couldn’t stand “that noise,” and as to the traditional Muslim dresses everywhere, she said, “My ancestors died so I wouldn’t have to wear one of those and I never will.”
“I’m a very good Muslim,” Councilman Abu Musa, an immigrant from Bangladesh and the top vote getter in November told the Detroit Free Press. “I try my best to pray five times (a day), but when I get elected, every single ethnic (person) votes for me, not (only) the Muslim vote for me, but Christians, every single ethnic group, African-Americans, Polish. I’m a good friend of the Polish.”
After the Muslim win, CNN anchor Carol Costello, in CNN fashion, asked Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, “Are you afraid?” To which Majewski replied, “No, I’m not afraid. And actually, I’d like to make another correction. … Whether the demographics of the city would say we’re a Muslim-majority city, I don’t think that we’re there yet. I think we’re probably somewhere in the 40% Muslim for the city overall. But our city council that will take office in January will be a majority-Muslim council.”
The census says 50%, but the heart prefers 40%.
In January, when the new council convened and the new members were sworn in, Mayor Majewski said, “Elections are often contentious and bitter, now the people with whom you’ll be serving are no longer your competitors but your colleagues. It’s your job, our job, to work with each other as partners in this common project, to learn from each other, to depend on each other’s knowledge and skills where our own are lacking.”