CAIRO - In a major leap for the Muslim minority in the United States, a Muslim attorney was appointed to a California Superior Court judgeship, to be the first Muslim American on a California bench.
I hope that my appointment serves as an example to others in the Muslim American community, particularly the youth, that our faith and identity need not be an obstacle to our full participation in California's civic institutions, Halim Dhanidina told India-West newspaper on Friday, June 8.
Similarly, I hope to perform my new responsibilities in a way that demonstrates to society at large that Muslim Americans can serve the community in the pursuit of justice with dignity and honor, he said.
Dhanidina was appointed to a California Superior Court judgeship May 18 by Governor Jerry Brown.
He will take up his new role June 20, although he has not yet been assigned to a court.
Born in Chicago, Dhanidina is the son of Gujarati parents who emigrated from Tanzania to the US in 1960.
A founding member of the Association of South Asian Prosecutors, Dhanidina spent 14 years as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.
He noted that his 14 years as a deputy district attorney and being in court nearly every day have made him intimately familiar with how a courtroom works, including the rules that govern a trial.
The 39-year-old attorney said his many years in the D.A.'s office have imbued him with a sense of grace under pressure.
Dhanidina spent five years prosecuting gang members and three years in the major crimes division, which included several death penalty cases.
I've had some very highly-charged, pressure filled cases, said Dhanidina.
Gang cases have so many consequences, he added
Dhanidina earned his law degree at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he served as the co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association.
He earned his bachelor's degree at Pomona College, where he founded the first Muslim Students' Association.
He currently sits on the Board of Governors of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Los Angeles.
The news of Dhanidina's appointment was welcomed by the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Dhanidina's appointment is an important step in ensuring that California's leaders accurately reflect the communities present in our great state, said Aziza Hasan, MPAC's Southern California Government Relations director, in a press statement.
The council said it had advocated for Dhanidina's appointment for more than a year.
There are 500,000 Muslims in Los Angeles, the second largest Muslim concentration in the US after New York City.
American Muslims are estimated between six to seven million, less than three percent of the country's 300 million population.
Since 9/11, US Muslims have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll, however, found 43 percent of Americans nationwide admitted to feeling at least a little prejudice against Muslims.