The U.S. Senate has approved Rashad Hussain to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, in a historic move as the first American Muslim to hold the position welcome by different religious groups.
Hussain, a-42-year-old lawyer, was nominated by President Joe Biden in July, and won Senate approval in an 85-5 vote with both the main parites backing on Dec. 16 for the IRF position, TRT World reported.
The previous IRF ambassador Sam Brownback praised the decision and its bipartisan majority.
“Religious persecution is rampant around the world, and the international community looks to the United States for leadership that can make a difference,” he said.
Knox Thames, a senior fellow for the Institute for Global Engagement who served as the U.S. State Department’s special advisor for religious minorities during both the administrations of Barrack Obama and Donald Trump also praised the “overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.”
“It’s good for the issue that partisan politics stayed out of international human rights advocacy,” he told Christianity Today.
“And it’s good for the persecuted that the Senate confirmed American’s top diplomat promoting religious freedom before Christmas.”
Hussain held various roles in Obama’s administration, serving on the National Security Council, as an associate White House counsel, and as special envoy for strategic counterterrorism communications.
He was also a special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and intergovernmental organization representing 57 member states, most of them with a Muslim majority.
IMPACT OF BIGOTRY
“(A)s a Muslim American, I have seen the impact of bigotry and guilt by association tactics used against minority communities, including the message it sends and dangers it poses to young people,” Hussain said during his prepared remarks to the committee.
Hussain was born in the state of Wyoming to Indian parents and raised in Texas, and is a Hafiz, or person who has memorized the entire Quran.
He pledged to ensure that religious freedom issues would never be sacrificed in diplomatic or economic negotiations with China.
“China is one of the worst abusers of religious freedom in the world,” Hussain said in response to a question about America’s response to the Uyghur genocide.
He urged increased US pressure on China to alleviate the suffering of not only the Uyghurs but Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese Christians, and members of the Falun Gong religious movement.
The US Commission on International Religous Freedom (USCIRF) thanked the U.S. Congress for prioritizing the appointment of Brownback’s successor.
“The right to freedom of religion or belief is under sustained threat globally,” stated USCIRF chair Nadine Maenza. “With his years of knowledge and experience, Ambassador Hussain is well placed to advance the US government’s promotion of international religious freedom.”
Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, “We are praying for his success and we are eager to work with him.
“Religious freedom is under assault around the globe and his position is vital to confronting those who would undermine this fundamental right.”