Biden announces new religious affairs leaders, first Muslim religious freedom ambassador

Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, at a 2016 interview in Washington, D.C. Photo by B. Allen/Voice of America. Courtesy of Wikimedia/Creative Commons

The White House announced Friday a slate of nominations and appointments for top religious affairs roles, including the first Muslim American nominated to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.


President Biden will select Rashad Hussain as his nominee for that post, filling a State Department slot vacant since former Kansas governor and U.S. Senator Sam Brownback left at the close of the Trump administration. Hussain, who would need to be confirmed by the Senate, currently works as director for Partnerships and Global Engagement at the National Security Council.
He previously served as White House counsel under President Barack Obama, as well as U.S. special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and U.S. special envoy for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, among other roles.


"Rashad's appointment demonstrates not only the importance the Biden administration places on religious freedom," said Saeed Khan, an expert on American Muslim communities at Wayne State University, "it also shows the importance of the Muslim world to the administration both in terms of combatting Islamophobia and also promoting religious freedom in Muslim majority countries. Rashad's background will allow him to have a frank discussion with Muslim majority countries about religious freedom."


Anila Ali, a co-founder of the American Muslims and Multifaith Women's Empowerment Council Iftar who has worked with Hussain in the past, also celebrated his nomination. 
"As AMMWEC, and as a woman leader, I look forward to working with him because women play an important role in peace-making," Ali said. "He has worked with Muslim communities during the Obama period and we hope his relevant experience is going to make him a voice for all of us."


Biden is also expected to nominate Deborah Lipstadt as the next U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. Lipstadt is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and a prominent Holocaust historian. She is the author of "Antisemitism: Here and Now" and is known for successfully defeating a libel suit brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving.


"We are greatly heartened by the anticipated announcement of Prof. Lipstadt to continue our nation's fight against antisemitism both here and abroad," said Mark (Moishe) Bane, president of the Orthodox Union. "She is a leader with great moral courage; her dedicated work, clear voice in fighting Holocaust denial and preserving the memory of the attempted destruction of the Jewish people make her an exemplary choice for this role."


Lipstadt, who would have the rank of ambassador, also requires Senate confirmation. The anticipated announcement follows a May 24 letter from several leading Jewish organizations calling on President Biden to address the recent rise in antisemitic attacks.


"The presence and efforts of an Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism send a powerful signal to governments around the world that the U.S. takes combating antisemitism seriously and calls on them to do the same," the letter said.


In addition, Biden plans to appoint two new commissioners to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Khizr Khan and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum.
Khan became famous in 2016 when he and his wife, Ghazala, spoke during the Democratic National Convention as "Gold Star" parents, discussing their son, Humayun, a U.S. Army captain who died in Iraq in 2004.

Khan, a Harvard-educated Muslim immigrant, directly challenged then-candidate Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, accusing the business mogul of having sacrificed "nothing — and no one."


"Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy," Khan said as he held aloft a worn booklet containing the text of the document.
Khan, the founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Project, runs his own law practice and has authored three books, including "Founding Documents of the United States of America."


Kleinbaum, for her part, already served as a USCIRF commissioner in 2020 and leads the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, a community that centers LGBTQ people. A human rights advocate, she also sits on Mayor de Blasio's Faith Based Advisory Council and serves on New York City's Commission on Human Rights. In addition, she is a board member of the New York Jewish Agenda and the New Israel Fund.
 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

One third of Americans don’t identify as Christian. IFYC VP Amber Hacker explains how to offer a more equitable approach to time off.
Are Gen Z protestors inspired by spiritual concerns? Are or they indifferent to religion and spirituality? A recent study sheds some light.
Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president of the United States, after John F. Kennedy, and displays his faith openly, often wearing a rosary and attending Mass routinely. This will be his first encounter with Francis since becoming president.
The 17 kidnapped adults and children are from Amish, Mennonite and other Anabaptist Christian communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada. 
My cousin, a prayer leader in the Ismaili Muslim community, served at the center of civic and communal life. In mourning his death, we are reminded of what faith communities and religious traditions do so well.
Our top 10 picks feature a guide to interfaith workplaces, a reflection on how the 'Dune' novel draws on Islamic motifs, and an interfaith friendship in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.
"It should be no surprise that I think religion is essential" to being inclusive, IFYC founder Eboo Patel writes. "What struck me is the number of other people who seemed to agree."
Religious leaders called on President Joe Biden and congressional lawmakers to pass the John Lewis Act and other voting rights legislation.
"I want to do the work of a theologian that takes seriously reading Black texts as sacred texts and Black life as sacred history," Stewart said.
Pope Francis has turned Twitter into a prophetic medium. It is his way of getting the Gospel message out to the world.
The Duniverse, as some fans call it, is heavily influenced by ecology and sociology — as well as imagery from the Islamic world and the Middle East.
The gathering was one stop on a spiritual convoy to San Francisco, where a court will hear an appeal the group has filed to keep land in Arizona from being transferred to a mining company.
University leaders say they will use the gift to fund new faculty positions and build laboratories. Calvin is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, a small denomination based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Our top 10 religion stories ask: Can college kids get along? Does "Midnight Mass" respect religion? And is there a Torah of Ted Lasso?
The expansion is fueled by concerns over political polarization on college campuses, an infusion of funds from foundations interested in bridge-building, and a merger with IFYC, which has a track record facilitating interfaith engagement.
The home temple, or puja mandir, has been part of Hindu culture for centuries. Even for those who are not very religious, it can be a space for meditation and reflection.
Feeling broken and betrayed by God after her son Beau died, the First Lady said her spirits lifted inside a Baptist church. "I felt for the first time that there was a path for my recovering my faith."
Applications open October 1, and grants are available to educators doing important work that engages religious diversity to combat systemic racism, inside and outside the classroom.
On loan from the Library of Congress, the historic English-language Quran, printed in London in 1764, will be the first object in a display that honors U.S. founding principles.
Ancient rabbis imagined the great chain of tradition, that went from generation to generation, as a ball that is tossed, playfully, from teacher to student. Is there a "Lasso Torah" inside a television show about a fish-out-of-water Midwestern football coach?
Studies show houses of worship have provided solace during the pandemic, but companies across the U.S. are struggling to respond to requests for religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.