Defying The Norm, Again: Activist Qasim Rashid Runs For Congress

Running for Congress isn’t new for the Muslim human rights lawyer. But his push for change and a better America is heightened during these times.

By

Mohamed Alagteaa
Art - Shayma Al-shiri

This feature is in partnership with Asian American Journalist Associations’ Muslim American Task Force with the mission to uplift Muslim community members. 

Earlier this year, human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid announced his bid for Virginia’s 1st District seat in the U.S. Congress.

Muslim spoke to Rashid about migrating to the United States, the significance of his bid, being Muslim Ahmadi, and the issues he cares about and his message to young Muslims. 

 

Pursuing the “American Dream” 

Like any story of immigration, Rashid’s contains signs of sacrifice and hope. His parents fled to the U.S. to ensure safety for their children and to practice their religion without the fear of repercussions. His parents were adamant to be immersive and engaged. “There was no sense of hesitancy from them to keep us involved in our new community,” Rashid said. 

The democratic candidate, who is 37, recalls working from an early age to help his parents put food on the table, pay rent and other utilities. 

According to him, “out of that struggle came a lot of good.”

While so many of us are over the cliché of the American dream, Rashid’s story is a manifestation of a guiding promise that people suffering from all sorts of ordeals believe in: Not only is he is a person of color, Asian American, Muslim and an immigrant. He is also a successful human rights lawyer, best-selling author, politician and a Congressional candidate.   


 

Why the run for Congress?

This will not be Rashid’s first attempt at running for office.

The best-selling author ran against Virginia state Sen. Richard Stuart, in 2019 and lost by 15 points. This might have been a major blow for Rashid, but the Congressional candidate sees it as a learning experience through which he can benefit from going into the race for Congress, which he describes as “more balanced in terms of liberal vs conservative voters,” compared to the Senate.

However it may seem, Rashid’s second attempt is derived from the same everlasting principle, fighting for marginalized communities.

The human rights lawyer spent most of his career and adult life advocating for the rights of the voiceless, supporting women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, working with non-profits on advancing health care and education access for children from low income communities.

“Running for office is about transforming my advocacy for marginalized communities into policy”, said Rashid.

He is also running a race without corporate money, relying solely on small donors, something he achieved previously in his senate campaign, where he raised more money from small donors than any other state Senate candidate in Virginia, according to The Prince William Times

All this rings true to Rashid, who is from a marginalized community, a persecuted religious group and a person of color. 

It will be a great challenge for the author of TalkToMe: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, & Education as Virginia 1 district has a population of more than 700 thousand people, more than 70% of which are white. Yet, Rashid believes that these constituents are ready to be represented by a Muslim.

No matter their political or ideological affiliation, people are struggling with the same issues and people are especially sick of corruption in politics. He is counting on his track record of uplifting others and running an “honest, transparent, people focused campaign on the issues” to win hearts, minds and votes.

 

Being Ahmadi Muslim & Support from Muslim Community

Qasim Rashid is an Ahmadi Muslim and served as the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA from 2010-2018. 

Many may believe that all Muslims practice the same way or believe the same exact things, which couldn’t be further from the truth – there are many different Muslim sects. 

Ahmadiyya suffer significant sanctioned violence and persecution in Pakistan. These Muslims pray five times a day, perform Hajj, pay the Zakat and believe that prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the seal of the prophets.

The support to Rashid’s campaign from fellow Muslims was noticeable but was not particularly overflowing or unanimous. Some Muslim communities took it upon themselves to display their disapproval of his candidacy and going as far as labelling him an infidel.

“There are Masajid that passed out flyers calling me Kafir and telling people not to vote for me,” Rashid said. 

However, his response to those who were discriminatory, bigoted and harmful towards him was of a Muslim who has decided to follow the example of the prophet Mohamed PBUH.

“Once I am elected and they need help…I will be the very first person to help them without exception, with no hesitancy on my part, because my responsibility is to uphold justice,” Rashid said. 

The Congressional candidate is instead focusing on the positive assistance seen from Muslim organizations such as Emgage USA, which is the nation’s largest Muslim political action committee. Emgage endorsed Rashid’s bid for the senate last year and is expected to endorse the human rights lawyer again this year.

Qasim and his brother Tayyib, who served as a marine veteran to the United States. (Photo/Qasim, Graphic/Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh)

 

Veterans: Front and Center

Policy-wise, Rashid’s proposals include a variety of solutions to issues such as healthcare, climate change, immigration and criminal justice reform, among many others. However, one issue Rashid is putting under the spotlight of his campaign is veterans, which is often used as a token and a talking point for politicians – but for this candidate it hits close to home.

His brother, Tayyib Rashid, is a U.S. Marine who served in the court when 9/11 happened, which was “a horrifying and traumatic event for our country and also for our family,” the Congressional candidate said. 

It is also about painting an accurate story about the participation of Muslim-Americans in the military.

Many do not realize that “American Muslims served and defended the United States in every war this nation has ever fought in” Rashid said, adding that this is about “taking our rightful place in this country’s history” and fighting the notion that Muslims are unpatriotic or un-American.

This only adds a personal dimension to the problem, one he can speak of from experience, but the matter remains around the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not have adequate financial support, veterans do not have access to mental health treatment, or job placement that they need. There are 40,000-50,000 homeless veterans across the U.S., which is to Rashid, “immoral and completely unjust.”

 

Message for Muslim Youth 

Whether you agree with his proposals or adhere to his ideologies and beliefs, Qasim Rashid is a person of substance with a track record of great deeds and a successful career in law practice and writing. 

When asked for any word of wisdom for the younger Muslim generation, his answer centered around staying true to oneself and speaking with conviction. He added that as Muslims living in this country “you are an equal citizen and resident of this state, and you have as much stake in this nation as anyone and you have as little stake as anyone.” 

 

To learn more information, you can find the Congressional candidate Qasim Rashid on Twitter. 

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 About AAJA’s Muslim American Task Force
The Asian American Journalists Association’s mission is to ensure accurate and fair coverage of AAPI communities and, more broadly, communities of color. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia and, as such, AAJA created a task force to develop resources for journalists covering Muslim/Muslim American communities and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies. The task force seeks to improve coverage of Muslim American issues and serve as a resource to journalists covering Muslim American communities. Learn more at aaja.org.