Harvard Law Review makes history with election of its first Muslim president

Harvard Law Review makes history with election of its first Muslim president

In another first for Muslim Americans nationwide, the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious law school journal, has named a Muslim as president for the first time in its 134-year history. According to Reuters, Hassaan Shahawy, an Egyptian American from Los Angeles, will join others who held the noteworthy position—including former president Barack Obama, who was the first Black president for both the review journal and the nation.

Electing the first Muslim to serve in this role breaks barriers in one of the most coveted roles for a law student. The Harvard Law Review is one of the oldest and most influential law journals in the country. Being president of the Review thus opens doors for Shahawy as top students are often associated with law school journals and given more opportunities since these positions are determined by academics and leadership ability.

As president, Shahawy becomes a strong contender for prestigious judicial clerkships and legal careers. Many well-known individuals in history have served as key members of the Review, including late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, both of whom were editors.

When asked about his election, Shahawy said that he hopes his election will further represent “legal academia’s growing recognition of the importance of diversity, and perhaps its growing respect for other legal traditions … Coming from a community routinely demonized in American public discourse, I hope this represents some progress, even if small and symbolic,” he told Reuters.

Shahawy’s historical win follows that of the first Black woman elected as president of the Review in 2017. Ten years before that in 2007, the Harvard Law Review elected its first Hispanic president. In 2011, it elected its first openly gay president. These historical firsts not only encourage other minority members to pursue their dreams, but break stereotypes often associated with minorities and leadership roles.  

Diversity and representation at all levels of society is important. Law reviews publish findings and thought in the field of law; having diverse voices thus allows for not only representation but inclusion.

While Harvard in the 21st century has paved the way for many law schools to follow efforts to increase diversity, historically it has been criticized for its lack of appeal to both culturally diverse and low-income students; its recruitment efforts often neglected these students. This election is historical not just for Harvard, but for schools nationwide. Not only will Muslims and other minority groups be encouraged to run for such positions, but the idea of a prestigious school founded on cultural inequality electing a Muslim is a big deal. It shows that while change may be slow, it is possible.

Shahawy graduated from Harvard as an undergraduate in 2016 with a degree in History and Near Eastern Studies. As a Rhodes Scholar, he then attended the University of Oxford to pursue a doctorate in Oriental Studies, during the course of which he studied Islamic law.

The 26-year-old told Reuters that he has been actively working with refugee populations and on criminal justice reform. While his future plans are unclear, he shared his interest in the possibility of becoming a public interest lawyer or working in academia.

Congratulations to Shahawy on his election, and congratulations to the many others who identify with marginalized communities who will come after him! Our identities do not make our accomplishments and merits any less, and they should be celebrated.

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