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From ‘71 POW to Georgia state senate, the story of Sheikh Rahman

  • Published at 12:50 pm January 17th, 2019
Sheikh Rahman sworn in as a state senator accompanied by his family in the Georgia Senate building | Georgia State Senate

He worked as a dishwasher for $3.35 per hour at a Pizza Hut to pay for his tuition

Sheikh Rahman is the first Muslim and Bangladeshi immigrant to be elected to the state senate of Georgia in the United States. 

A teenage Sheikh Rahman | Courtesy 

Born November 15, 1960 in the village of Sararchar in Bajitpur, Kishoreganj, Sheikh Rahman Chandan was born to a politically conscious family.

The Democratic senator was barely a pre-teen when the Liberation War broke out. His father Najibur Rahman, a prominent political figure from Kishoreganj, took part in the war. As retaliation, Sheikh was captured by the Pakistani occupying forces. The teenage Sheikh spent 1971 as a prisoner of war.

In independent Bangladesh, his father became the head of Bangladesh Railway Security Forces, providing Sheikh with the opportunities to complete his education and apply for higher education abroad.

Sheikh arrived in the United States in January 1981 and enrolled at Piedmont Community College in North Carolina. He worked as a dishwasher for $3.35/hour to pay for his tuition and improve his English.

At the time, the Iranian hostage crisis had posited many Americans to feel distrusting of Muslims. Sheikh’s religion and complexion made his life difficult, but he did not flounder. He worked hard diligently, approached problems analytically, dispelling suspicions and embracing the American culture. 

After Piedmont, Sheikh went to the University of Georgia where he was elected as student senator [a portent of things to come] and president of the Global Studies Association.

In 1995, after obtaining his degree, Sheikh became a US citizen.

Sheikh went from a dishwasher to a restaurant manager to corporate executive at Pizza Hut. From there, he jumped to real estate, which he deals to this day.

Also Read- Immigrant Bangladeshi to join Georgia Senate next January

His younger brother Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Iqbal was elected to the 11th National Parliament from Kishoreganj. His sister Nadia Akhter was elected as the president of the Bangladeshi Community in Georgia five time in a row.

When Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee in 2008, Sheikh was heavily inspired by him, and took part in politics. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Action Network, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Democratic Party of Georgia. 

In addition to serving as an active member of the Labor, Asian-American and LGBT caucuses, he is a superdelegate for the State of Georgia. He also serves as an advisor to the Alliance of South Asian American Labor.

He was elected from Gwinnett County, which reportedly has the fastest-rising non-white population in the state. In an interview with CBS, Sheikh said he was happy to represent the changing demographic in Georgia.

He is pro-gun control, pro-immigration, favours universal healthcare, and wants to repair and rebuild the state infrastructure.

As he takes to the state capitol, the founding fathers cannot but smile at his achievement of the American Dream.

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