We can all agree that 2016 was a tough year, but these Muslim men made it that little bit better. We compiled a list of the individuals that inspired us most this year. It was challenging to narrow down, which is a great reminder of how many good people there are in the world.
The British actor and rapper graduated with a Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree from Oxford University before starring in independent films such as The Four Lions and The Road to Guantanamo. Most recently, you may have seen him in Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film where he played Bodhi Rock, the former Imperial cargo pilot who defects the Rebels under the influence of Galen. His presence in the public eye has given him the chance to speak out about being racially profiled at airports and his experiences as a minority actor. He has contributed to many recent discussions about being a Muslim in interviews and books.
The Syrian swimmer represented the small Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and broke his personal best in the 100m freestyle. He was always a keen swimmer and was bound to be picked for the Syrian team in 2012, however as the civil war in Syria escalated in 2011, he left the city to join his brother in Turkey. Originally from Aleppo, he did not know then that he would not be coming back as he packed only a small bag with enough clothes for a few weeks. He ended up staying for four years, before finally seeking asylum in Belgium. He said: “In the 2020 Olympics, I hope to be able to swim under my own flag.”
Also known as the Syria Civil Defense, the White Helmets are volunteers that operate in the rebel-controlled Syria during the Syrian Civil War. They have given their lives to save thousands of people from scenes of bombings, pulling them out of the rubble and carrying them to safety. They have been often targeted by for helping civilians and killed during their rescue operations.
This year, Abdullah Hammous was the first Arab American Muslim to win a seat in the State House of Representatives in Dearborn, Michigan. During the primaries, he faced a lot of discrimination from the community members for being a Muslim. When the first campaign flyer was set out announcing Hammoud’s candidacy, it came back ripped up in the mail, with a note attached saying: “No more Arabs, no more Muslims. Go back to your country.” However, the 26 year-old campaigned hard about healthcare, the environment, education and transportation, which is what won him the seat.
Sadiq Khan, a British Pakistani, became the first Muslim Mayor of London earlier on this year. He grew up in a council flat, with a humble family setting and often recalls his father’s hard work of being a bus driver for over 25 years and his mother’s job as a seamstress. At university, he studied Law and worked as a solicitor specialising in human rights.
He joined the Labour party in 1994, as the Councillor for the London Borough of Wansworth, before eventually being elected MP for Tooting in 2005. Khan is the city’s first ethnic minority mayor and already he has introduced reforms to limit charges on London’s public transport and focused on uniting the city’s diverse communities.
With nine global titles, Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah is the most successful British track athlete in the modern Olympic Games history. He was the gold Olympic medallist in both the 5,000m and 10,000m in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Farah’s most iconic moment was when he overcame a mid-race fall in the 10,000m race and still won, by powering clear of the field in the final 100m, to win in 27 minutes and five seconds. Farah was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to athletics.
Hamdi Ulukaya is a Kurdish businessman who founded Chobani, the number one selling strained Greek-style yoghurt in the United States. He took a risk in purchasing an outdated yoghurt factory in upstate New York in 2005, a region that was renowned for its dairy industry. With no prior experience in the business, he has created a yoghurt empire, with factories in several states. It was valued at $1 billion in annual sales in less than five years after its launch. In 2016, Ulukaya announced that he would be giving 10% shares of the company to his employees.
Mostly known for his presenting Al Jazeera English, Mehdi Hasan is a British political journalist, broadcaster and author. He is the political editor of the UK version of the Huffington Post and he co-wrote Ed Miliband’s biography. This year, Mehdi has helped tackle the xenophobic narrative during the American elections, where Muslims were targeted for their faith.
Dave Chappelle is an African-American Muslim, who hosted Saturday Night Live’s first show after Donald Trump was elected. He gave an important speech about Trump’s victory by saying: “I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too.” Jokingly, he added that America “finally elected an Internet troll as President.” Chappelle made it clear that despite Trump’s win, the American people should not be giving him a free pass for his expressed bigotry and sexism.