He is the first Indian American and Muslim to be nominated to serve as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
President Joe Biden on Friday announced his intent to nominate Rashad Hussain as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
He will succeed Sam Brownback, a former Kansas governor and U.S. senator from the state.
Hussain is currently director for Partnerships and Global Engagement at the National Security Council. If the U.S. Senate confirms him, the Wyoming-born Hussain will become the first Indian American and first Muslim to serve in the position.
Hussain, 41, is the first Muslim to be nominated to serve as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. “Today’s announcement underscores the President’s commitment to build an Administration that looks like America and reflects people of all faiths,” the White House said in a press release.
A veteran of the Obama administration, Hussain served as a Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications from February 2015 to January 2017.
In that role, he facilitated, on behalf of the United States, the expansion of global engagement and partnerships in order to counteract violent extremism. Prior to that, he served as America’s Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Before that, Hussain worked as a Deputy Associate Counsel to Obama, focusing on national security, the fields of science and technology and news media.
In addition to Hussain, Biden named three other individuals to serve in different roles at the Office of International Religious Freedom.
Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar in modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, was nominated as “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism with the Rank of Ambassador.” Pakistani American Gold Star parent Khizr Khan and Sharon Kleinbaum, spiritual leader of the Beit Simchat Torah congregation, have been appointed as commissioners of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
Khan, whose son U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan was killed while serving in Iraq, was a prominent speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where he criticized then-GOP nominee Donald Trump.
Hussain’s role and influence, as the head of the Office of International Religious Freedom, in shaping U.S. policy on religious freedom will be closely watched by New Delhi.
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,” according to its website. The office monitors “religiously motivated abuses, harassment, and discrimination worldwide,” and recommends, develops, and implements policies and programs accordingly.
The ambassador-at-large is a non-voting member of the USCIRF, which placed India among 14 “countries of particular concern,” in its latest report released in April. “In early 2020, the passage of the religiously discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)—a fast track to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan residing in India—led to nationwide protests against the CAA and spurred state and non-state violence, largely targeting Muslims,” the report noted.
The 2020 USCIRF report had also recommended designating India as a “country of particular concern.”
In the past, India had rejected USCIRF’s conclusions saying that they were biased.
Hussain’s nomination was welcomed by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “Rashad Hussain is an impressive advocate of freedom of religion or belief in challenging diplomatic contexts,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a press release. “He is an ally in the global fight against antisemitism, including in his extensive engagement with the Muslim world, and an experienced advocate for building stronger Muslim-Jewish relations.”
Kaleem Kawaja, president of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, also praised the nomination. “Rashad Hussain is one of the few Indian American Muslims, who was given prominent positions by successive US Presidents, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, in their outreach attempts to the world at large,” he said.
Recalling a speech Hussain delivered at an Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Washington, DC, several years ago, Kawaja said the official did not shy away from speaking truth to a largely Muslim audience. According to Kawaja, Hussain delivered a strong message on education, job creations and empowerment.
“Even though there are many secular and progressive Muslims in Muslim communities everywhere, for their own growth the Muslim communities must put emphasis on improving broad based secular and religious education for boys and girls, increase access to opportunity through job creation, address the sense of political disenfranchisement for those not from the upper strata of society,” Kawaja quoted Hussain as saying.
Son of Indian American Mohammad Akbar Hussain, an engineer, and Ruqaiya Hussain, a physician, Rashad Hussain grew up in Plano, TX. He completed his high school from Greenhill School in nearby Dallas.
He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and J.D. from Yale Law School. He also has a master’s degrees in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, as well as a master’s in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard.
Hussain taught law at Georgetown Law Center and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, as an adjunct professor.
Hussain also has Capitol Hill experience, having worked as a legislative aide for the House Judiciary Committee in the early 2000s.