CALIFORNIA – An American Muslim activist has been appointed as the first Muslim student regent, in a victory over Jewish groups that objected to her pro-Palestinian activism.
"I'm beyond blessed," Sadia Saifuddin, a 21-year-old social welfare major at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley told Reuters after the vote on Wednesday, July 17.
“I'm very excited for this position,” she added, beaming as she walked through a largely supportive crowd to accept her seat.
Saifuddin will become the first Muslim student member of the 26-person board of regents for a year-long term starting in 2014.
Her appointment followed severe opposition from Jewish groups, including the prominent Simon Wiesenthal Center, citing her involvement in a campaign to divest university funds from companies with business connections to the Israeli military.
They also objected to her sponsoring a student senate resolution that condemned a lecturer at the system's Santa Cruz campus for what the resolution said was Islamophobic rhetoric.
"In a year where campus climate issues have been the dominant theme of the UC system, a vote to appoint somebody who has served to polarize thousands and thousands of people in the campus community and beyond is shocking," said Rabbi Aron Hier of the Wiesenthal Center, which petitioned the regents to deny Saifuddin a seat on the board.
"An appropriate Muslim candidate could have ably served in this position. We don't believe Sadia is that appropriate candidate," he added.
Despite the opposition, 25 university regents voted on Wednesday to confirm her appointment with one member, Richard Blum, abstaining from the vote.
He cited concerns about Saifuddin's divestment efforts.
In her acceptance speech, Saifuddin said would work to improve financial aid and the campus climate for students of all backgrounds.
For the next year, Saifuddin will be able to participate in all regents' discussions but she won't have voting rights until her one-year term begins in July 2014.
Despite high opposition voices, Saifuddin supporters praised her as an exemplary student who cared about students of all faiths.
"Sadia is a remarkable young woman. She is committed to supporting all of UC students, and to this university and this country which she loves," said Regent Bonnie Reiss, who chaired the student regent selection committee.
Reiss, who described herself as a Jew who strongly supports Israel, emphasized that Saifuddin would not have been named "if we did not believe her commitment to represent and serve all UC students regardless of religion or political point of view."
Her appointment was also regarded as a victory over discriminatory voices.
Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said opponents who disagreed with Saifuddin's politics wanted to unjustly exclude her from civic participation.
"Anytime an American Muslim rises to a prominent position, or starts to rise to prominence, that tiny minority of 'Islamophobes' in our society goes into action and seeks to marginalize and disenfranchise that individual," Hooper said.
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 Muslims.
A Gallup poll had found that the majority of US Muslims are patriot and loyal to their country and are optimistic about their future.
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