America elected its first two Muslim women to the US House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections: Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13thCongressional District and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5thCongressional District.
Tlaib and Omar are part of a “pink wave” in which a record 100 women ran for Congressional office, with a projected minimum of 113 women expected to serve in the House of Representatives’ 435 seats. Tlaib and Omar are also representative of a wave of diverse, progressive Democratic candidates for public office. Last night saw the election of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, Debra Halaand of New Mexico, and Sharice Davids of Kansas, the election of the first openly gay governor in Colorado, Jared Polis, the election of New England’s first Black congresswoman, Jahana Hayes in Connecticut, and the youngest person ever elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ilhan Omar won the seat of the former representative for her district, and the first Muslim elected to Congress, Keith Ellison. Ellison is expected to run for Minnesota Attorney General. Omar brings a dramatically new set of perspectives to the table. She is the first refugee, the first Somali-American, and the first woman to wear a hijab to serve in Congress; she is also the first woman of color to represent Minnesota in Congress.
Omar joins a tiny minority of Congressional representatives who are openly critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. She has had a long career in progressive organizing and activism with the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and ran on a broadly progressive platform of support for working families, educational access, environmental protection, and racial equality.
Rashida Tlaib takes the seat of Democratic Representative John Conyers, who left office amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Tlaib ran unopposed in the general election after winning the primary. She won her Congressional seat after practicing at Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, followed by a decade of progressive advocacy in the Michigan state legislature, to which she was the first Muslim woman ever elected.
As a state legislator, Tlaib secured millions in new funding for seniors and students, saved hundreds of families from foreclosure, and won environmental battles to clean pollutants from Detroit’s riverfront. She is, like Ocasio-Ortiz in New York, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and an outspoken supporter of universal health care and a $15 minimum wage.
There are now three Muslim members of the US House of Representatives, including Democratic Representative Andre Carson from Indiana’s 7thCongressional District. Together, Carson, Tlaib, and Omar represent the highest level of representation Muslims have ever had in Congress. Muslims now make up 1.1% of Americans, but approximately 0.7% of the House of Representatives. There has not ever been a Muslim US Senator.
Several organizations contributed to sharp increase in progressive candidates running for office in 2018. Emerge America, Emily’s List and several others provide resources for Democratic women running for public office, Higher Heights for America is dedicated to electing Black women to public office, and the Victory Institute aims at getting LGBTQ candidates into office. Other organizations have emerged in the wake of the 2016 elections to help people engage with and support progressive campaigns, among them Indivisible, Our Revolution, and Knock Every Door.
Sofia Ali-Khan is a Muslim American public interest lawyer and writer. Her recently viral post, “Dear Non-Muslim Allies,” and other writings can be found at sofiaalikhan.com.