Basheer Jones' Outspoken Religious Beliefs Defining Factor of His Candidacy

click to enlarge Basheer Jones speaks at mayoral forum in Jefferson Park, (7/8/21). - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Basheer Jones speaks at mayoral forum in Jefferson Park, (7/8/21).

After his stirring performance at a mayoral forum last week, Ward 7 Cleveland City Councilman and mayoral candidate Basheer Jones appeared on the local Jeff Brown Show Monday to elaborate on some of the themes he discussed there. Of particular interest was Jones' marquee moment, in which he criticized older local Black leaders for refusing to step aside for younger Black leaders.

At the Jefferson Park forum, Jones had deployed a memorable metaphor. Older Black leaders, he said, were "stepping on caterpillars as if the sky is not big enough for all the butterflies." 

And on the radio show Monday, he uncorked another: "You have some of [these leaders] who are fighting over crumbs instead of baking a bigger pie... Some of our elders want to die with the torch in their hand instead of passing it to the next generation so that they can see."

Jones was careful to say that this dynamic did not apply to all local leaders. In fact, he named Marcia Fudge as a leader who has served as his "political mother" and said she has uplifted him for his entire career. (Jones was one of several electeds, including Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown, who attended a dinner with Fudge in May organized by consultant Ken Dowell.)

In the Monday interview, which is embedded below and begins at about the 18:15 mark, Jones reiterated some of his policy ideas, including establishing a department of grief and condolence for the families of victims of violence and upgrading technology at City Hall to improve customer service for residents and small businesses.

In general, though, his description of the "new path" he claimed to represent for Cleveland sounded a good deal like the existing path, or at least a version of the existing vision: a city that can do better for businesses, a city that should be the healthcare capital of the world, a city where public safety forces should reflect the population's demographics, and a city that makes ending the digital divide a priority.

One of the more striking elements of the interview, though, was its frequent religious undertones. For those who don't follow Jones on social media, he is a devout Muslim, in fact the first Muslim to serve on Cleveland City Council. He remains an openly, deeply religious figure on the campaign trail, beginning virtually every new post and public appearance with gratitude to his creator.

His personal religious beliefs and organizational ties have become linked with his campaign. Jones made a number of questionable campaign expenditures in 2020 to international Muslim organizations and figures, including expenses likely related to his December travels in Egypt and the sponsorship of a Muslim orphanage there and a Quranic school in Senegal.

A recent controversial video shows Jones saying, "women are not our leaders." While he has argued that the snippet was taken out of context and that he was speaking to the men in his community, empowering them to protect their wives and children, the explanation itself relied upon the assumption of God-given gender roles. 

"The real message is men have to become better leaders," Jones said on the radio show Monday. "Men have to take on the responsibility that God has given them. And that is to protect our families, to protect our communities."

He affirmed, for the record, that he personally knew that women were leaders and that this message was only for a certain segment of the community.

But Jones' religious beliefs remain central to his identity and political commitments. His remarks can even occasionally veer toward the messianic, toward a conviction that his candidacy and rise to power have been divinely preordained. 

Even when he doesn't go that far, God is frequently on his mind and on his lips. He is an outlier in this respect. Municipal candidates are known to attend church on Sundays, especially as the election season heats up, to shake hands and bow heads with likely voters. But very few conclude campaign interviews like this: 

"At the end of the day, this isn't about voting," Jones said. "It ain't about no election. It's really about how we get closer to our creator. My teacher said something very beautiful. He said that the goal is not to be on the path of God. It is to remove everything that blinds you from the fact that you are already in the presence of God. God is your best friend. All you've got to do is talk to him."

Listen to "Ep. 140 - Guests: BK Brasco and Cleveland City Councilman Basheer Jones" on Spreaker.
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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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