Fayrouz Saad grew up as the daughter of immigrants who taught her anyone can achieve the American dream through hard work and determination. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she got her start in politics as a field organizer for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. She worked in state politics before being inspired by President Obama and later landed an appointment in his administration fighting domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security.
Her work in numerous political offices showed her that voters “want to talk about the issues. They want to see how people feel. Before they send their next representative to Congress and to Washington, they really want to make sure that person knows what they’re talking about and aligns with them,” Saad said.
Now, Saad could become the country’s first Muslim American congresswoman. The seat that Saad is running for representing Michigan’s 11th district has been held by a Republican for the last two elections, but the sitting congressman, Republican Dave Trott, has announced he won’t run again.
As it stands, just 105 of the 535 congressional House seats are held by women, a mere 19.6 percent. According to the Pew Research Center, women and ethnic minorities each compromise less than 20 percent of lawmakers, with more than 90 percent of Congress identifying as Christian.
Saad believes that’s why it’s important for her to have a voice and a seat at the table.
“If we want to have a representative democracy and a representative government, then those have to be elected leaders as well,” Saad said.
After working with the Obama administration, Saad returned home to Michigan to help with Detroit’s revitalization, most recently working for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office.
Saad is hoping Michigan’s 11th district will rally behind her on health care, immigration, student debt and climate change, among other issues.
She said her work at the local, state and federal levels has given her a strong background in how legislation comes together.
“When you’re crafting legislation, you’re also thinking about how this is actually going to affect people in their homes at the same time,” she said.
Saad knows her own identity plays a role in this campaign and she wants to use it to best serve her community.
“I can help inform things in a way that others won’t be able to,” she said.
For Americans who say they don’t know Muslims personally, she said: “This is my opportunity to help them meet one and see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. We have so much more in common than we do different.”
In the year ahead, Saad faces an uphill battle to win the historically Republican seat.
When asked if the significance of her potential win weighs on her, Saad replied: “It inspires me, and I’m certainly up for the challenge.”
Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of “Uncomfortable.”
Download and subscribe to the “Uncomfortable” podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and ABC News podcasts.
Saad was interviewed as part of a series called ‘Uncomfortable,” hosted by Amna Nawaz, that offers in-depth honest conversations with influential figures about issues dividing America.