Two Democrats are poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress

  • Two Democrats are poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress, offering a sharp counterpoint to the anti-Muslim policies and sentiment surfacing in Washington and across the country.
  • Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state lawmaker and Somali-American former refugee, is favored to take a seat in Congress after winning her Democratic primary in a left-leaning Minnesota District on Tuesday. And in Michigan last week, Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib won her Detroit-area primary and runs unopposed in November.
  • In a year when a record number of women are running for Congress and races across the country include gay, lesbian and transgender candidates, Omar and Tlaib represent a new addition to the diversity of this election cycle.
Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar speaks during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 17, 2018. 
Emilie Richardson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar speaks during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 17, 2018. 

Two Democrats are poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress, offering a sharp counterpoint to the anti-Muslim policies and sentiment surfacing in Washington and across the country.

Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state lawmaker and Somali-American former refugee, is favored to take a seat in Congress after winning her Democratic primary in a left-leaning Minnesota district on Tuesday. She faces a challenge from Republican Jennifer Zielinski in November. And in Michigan last week, Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib won her Detroit-area primary and runs unopposed in November.

In a year when a record number of women are running for Congress and races across the country include gay, lesbian and transgender candidates, Omar and Tlaib represent a new addition to the diversity of this election cycle.

Omar attracted national attention after becoming the first Somali-American elected to Minnesota Legislature, unseating a 22-term Democratic incumbent. For her primary run, she received support from left-leaning groups and an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose stunning primary upset over 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in New York made national headlines.

If Omar wins in November, she will fill Rep. Keith Ellison's seat. Democrat Ellison, who in 2006 became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, decided to run for Minnesota attorney general and won his primary, despite an allegation of domestic abuse arising late in the campaign, an accusation he denies.

Tlaib also supported Omar's run, sending a dozen of her campaign workers to Minnesota to canvas for Omar the weekend before the election.

"I can't wait to walk onto the floor of United States Congress hand in hand with you. So incredibly proud of you," Tlaib said of Omar on Twitter.

Born in Somalia, Omar spent four years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the United States. Her district encompasses Minneapolis and surrounding suburban area, home to the largest Somali community in the country.

President Donald Trump has targeted Omar's district, warning that Somali immigrants are a "disaster" for Minnesota. Omar and Tlaib have vehemently opposed the president's ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, and in 2016 Tlaib famously heckled Trump during his speech in Detroit.

"When you see a Palestinian person with your name and faith succeed, it shows [the government] can ban us from coming into the country, but not from getting elected," Tlaib told ABC News last week. "Showing people it can be done would be a victory to my family."

Democrats pick former Michigan state Rep. Rashida Tlaib to run unopposed for the congressional seat that former Rep. John Conyers held for more than 50 years.
Al Goldis | AP 
Democrats pick former Michigan state Rep. Rashida Tlaib to run unopposed for the congressional seat that former Rep. John Conyers held for more than 50 years.

Democrat Tlaib, a Detroit native and daughter of Palestinian immigrants, narrowly won her primary race to succeed long time Rep. John Conyers, who resigned last year after sexual harassment allegations. In her heavily Democratic district, less than 5 percent of the population identifies as Arab-American.

Tlaib and Omar championed left-leaning policies, including Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Their victory speeches and watch parties were emotional. Supporters who came out included many immigrants, who in the wake of the victories celebrated American democracy despite an administration that has been particularly hostile to their communities.

"I will fight back against every racist and oppressive structure that needs to be dismantled," Tlaib declared in her victory speech in a room largely filled with Arab-Americans. "You deserve better than what we have today with our president."

Several other Muslim women are running for Congress in districts where primaries have not yet occurred, including Deedra Abboud, who is running for Senate in Arizona, and Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a House candidate in Massachusetts. Over 90 Muslims have entered races for office this election year, according to Jetpac, a nonprofit that advocates for American Muslims in politics.

Aside from Ellison, the only Muslim in the House is Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind.

"Today is about more than winning, it's about building a coalition to fight the politics of fear and scarcity. I'm a legislator, a refugee, and a working mom. But above all, I'm an organizer. And I'm ready to organize for the America we deserve," Omar said in a statement.