Last month, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered President Joe Biden’s nomination of Rashad Hussain as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
If confirmed, Hussain would be the first Muslim as well as the first Indian-American to hold this position in the Office of International Religious Freedom. Part of the U.S. Department of State. The mission of the office is to promote “universal respect for freedom of religion or belief for all as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy” and to “monitor religiously motivated abuses, harassment, and discrimination worldwide, and recommend, develop, and implement policies and programs to address these concerns.”
Educated at Yale and Harvard, Hussain, 42, has led a diverse career as an attorney, academician and interfaith diplomat. A professor in the law faculty of Georgetown University, he is senior counsel at the National Security Division in the Department of Justice and director for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council. He has also worked as deputy associate counsel in the White House and as U.S. special envoy for strategic counterterrorism communications.
During the Obama administration, Hussain served as special envoy to the 57-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the second-largest multilateral organization in the world after the United Nations, where he helped develop U.S. policy and partnerships with Muslim-majority countries, civil society and nongovernmental organizations.
Born in Wyoming and raised in Texas to parents who emigrated from India, Hussain is a hafiz—a Muslim who knows the holy Quran by heart.
Hussain was a key part of a successful 2011 effort by the United States to eliminate a divisive United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that was widely interpreted as a kind of global blasphemy law aimed at “combating defamation of religions.”
It was replaced with a consensus resolution on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization” and “discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”
The alternative resolution “properly focuses on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence instead of protecting religions from criticism,” wrote the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in a March 24, 2011, statement, welcoming the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption of the proposed consensus. “The resolution protects the adherents of all religions or beliefs, instead of focusing on one religion.”
In his various roles as envoy, Hussain “spearheaded efforts on countering anti-Semitism and protecting religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries,” noted the White House in a July 30 statement announcing President Biden’s nomination of Hussain.
In prepared remarks delivered during his virtual confirmation hearing October 26, Hussain told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that as a Muslim American he has witnessed 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.”
“A staggering 80 percent of people worldwide live in environments with high or severe restrictions on religious freedom,” he said.
Shortly before the confirmation hearing, Bob Roberts, a Texas pastor and multifaith ministry leader, and Chris Seiple, president emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement, urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to affirm Hussain as religious freedom ambassador.
“As the first Muslim to serve in this role, Hussain would send a strong signal rejecting despicable anti-Muslim discrimination, stereotyping and hatred we have seen in America and abroad,” wrote Roberts and Seiple in an October 21 op-ed in the Dallas Morning News. “And we should note, he is the perfect person to visibly and vocally defend the rights of religious minorities, especially Christians, in some Muslim-majority contexts that have struggled to promote religious freedom.”
On the day of Hussain’s confirmation hearing, Robert P. George, a scholar of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and David Saperstein, noted rabbi and former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, made an impassioned argument for his appointment.
“In the history of this position, no ambassador has brought the breadth of policy knowledge that Hussain brings,” they wrote in a Religion News Service opinion piece published October 26. They wrote that Hussain brings “vast experience and knowledge” to the vital position he has been nominated for. Pointing out that his nomination has already earned praise from religious groups from the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to the American Jewish Committee and the Union for Reform Judaism, the authors stressed that at a time of crisis for many overseas Muslim communities, the appointment of a “skilled diplomat with deep respect in the Muslim community” would “send a powerful message of America’s pluralism.”
The Church of Scientology publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.