PG Muslims Meet with County Executive

The Muslim community in Prince George’s County, Maryland continued pressing forward in their political growth with their first meeting with newly elected County Executive Rushern Baker on April 25, 2011.

The two-hour forum held at Prince George’s Community College was organized by the college’s Muslim Student’s Association in cooperation with the Prince George’s County Muslim Council (PGCMC). About 100 people attended the meeting, which was open to the general public and included a question and answer period.

Moderated by an MSA member, the first speaker was PGCMC president Jameel Alim-Johnson.

Alim-Johnson thanked the MSA for taking the initiative to set-up the meeting, and praised them for going against the stereotype that young people don’t care about civic involvement. He also reminded the audience that County Executive Baker met the community during his campaign at a candidates forum held at the Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) in Lanham.

“Nearly all of [the candidates] came out which shows they are looking at us as constituents just like everyone else ... and we believe we have the best man for the job,” said Alim-Johnson, who also joked that he hopes Baker will have a “quiet four years” because people only come to elected officials to make a complaint. Urging the mostly Muslim audience to register to vote, Alim-Johnson said “your ultimate feedback to [County Executive Baker] will be 4 years from now when he is up for reelection.”

“We are here to work with him and with his office to help make PG a better place and a better community, because as Muslims that is our responsibility,” said Alim-Johnson.

The next speaker was PGCC president Dr. Charlene Dukes, who asked the MSA students present to stand and be recognized for their efforts on campus. PGCC is one of the largest community colleges in the region with about 42,000 students. Dr. Dukes announced a new, ambitious project being launched by PGCC next year -- an academics focused, 100 student on-campus high school. Students will graduate in four years with both a high school diploma and an associates college degree.

Next, County Executive Rushern Baker took the podium. Baker, a trained lawyer with a doctorate in jurisprudence, was also a Maryland state delegate and ran for the County Executive position twice before winning in his third attempt last November.

Starting with “assalamu’alykum”, Baker talked about his youth and his years growing up around the world – his father was in the military – eventually studying law at Howard University in DC. One of his dorm mates at Howard was developer Kareem Abdussalaam, a member of the Laurel area Muslim community, who was also in the audience. During the summers, Baker would spend time with his father’s brother – his favorite uncle – who was a convert to Islam. Baker said his uncle and especially his father inspired him to get into politics, to change the situation which he often complained about. “If you think you can do better, then you should run for office,” Baker recalled his father saying after a political debate with his son. Baker won his first elected office in 1994, and happy his father was able to witness that moment. The elder Baker passed away a few years latter from cancer.

Baker thanked the Muslim community for engaging with his office, and specifically mentioned Dr. Haitham Hijazi, the director of the County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation. When he took over the County’s executive branch, Baker said he started asking people which department heads he should keep and which ones he should replace. “One name that everyone said was a must keep was Haitham Hijazi,” said Baker. “He is truly one of the best directors in this County.”

Baker said the County is poised to become the “economic engine of this region” due to its financial standing compared to surrounding counties and its proximity to Washington DC. Asked about minority contractors getting a share of the County’s massive development projects, Baker said “we will be really aggressive about [getting minorities their share]”. Alim-Johnson suggested having a forum where minority contractors can meet with the County Economic Development Team, Baker said it was “an excellent, excellent idea” and that “now was the time” to have such a meeting.

Asked about zoning being used to prevent religious institutions from expanding, Baker said he is speaking to council members about the issue. “The bureaucracy has been here a lot longer than I have, so is not going to move as quickly as I want … but I am mindful of the fact that different faiths worship on different days,” he explained. Services on Friday instead of Sunday pose different challenges to neighborhoods where masajid are located.

The Muslim attendees prayed maghrib, preceded by an explanation of the athaan and the prayer by Dar-us-Salaam’s Imam Safi Khan. Guests were also presented with plaques and gift bags by the MSA.

Audio of the event is available HERE

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