Muslim women make US history with congressional wins

Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib headed to Congress after election that notched a series of wins for minority candidates

In this November 6, 2008 photo, Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, is photographed outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
In this November 6, 2008 photo, Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, is photographed outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

For the first time in American history, two Muslim women were elected to Congress during Tuesday’s midterm elections, which broke barriers of race and gender.

Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan share the distinction of becoming the first Muslim women headed to the House of Representatives.

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Tlaib ran unopposed in Michigan’s 13th district House race, but fended off a late write-in challenge from the woman she defeated in the primaries.

“The first thing I think about when somebody says you’re going to be the first Muslim is celebrate this moment,” she told CBS last week. “We changed the course of history at a time we thought it was impossible. And that if you just believe, believe in the possibility of someone like me.”

Republicans who charge that the Democratic Party has departed from its pro-Israel bona fides point to Tlaib and Omar as proof.

Ilhan Omar, newly elected to the US House of Representatives, celebrates with her supporters after her Congressional 5th District primary victory in Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 6, 2018 (Kerem Yucel / AFP)

In recent interviews Tlaib has voiced support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, slashing US military aid to Israel and efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

Tlaib’s relatives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa greeted the news of her election with a mixture of pride and hope that she would be able to take on a US administration widely seen as hostile to Muslims and the Palestinian cause.

She has become “a source of pride for Palestine and the entire Arab and Muslim world,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Reuters on Tuesday.

Bassam Tlaib added that his niece had “stood against Trump” at a time when “even our Arab leaders are unwilling to face (him).”

In addition to being one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American woman to join congressional ranks.

Omar, a Somalia-born community activist who served a single term in the Minnesota Legislature, easily won Tuesday’s election for the Minneapolis-area congressional district being vacated by Rep. Keith Ellison.

Though she once called Israel an “apartheid regime” that was guilty of “evil doings,” Omar has softened her tone recently, coming out against the anti-Israel boycott movement and voicing support for a two-state solution.

At an August campaign event, Omar affirmed her belief in Israel’s right to exist, saying it was “important for us to recognize Israel’s place in the Middle East and the Jewish people’s rightful place within that region.”

Democratic candidate for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District Sharice Davids speaks to supporters during an election night party on November 6, 2018 in Olathe, Kansas. (Whitney Curtis/Getty Images/AFP)

In addition to Omar and Tlaib, Tuesday’s election saw several other historic firsts in the Democratic camp. New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas attorney Sharice Davids were elected the first two Native American women to serve in Congress.

Massachusetts and Connecticut will also send black women to Congress as firsts for their states, while Arizona and Tennessee are getting their first female senators.

The high-profile midterm cycle that produced a record number of women contenders and candidates of color saw Democrats take control of the House in a rebuke to US President Donald Trump.

But the president escaped a feared “blue wave” as his Republicans bolstered their Senate majority after a polarizing, racially charged campaign.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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