American-Palestinian Rashida Tlaib to Become First Muslim Woman in U.S. Congress

After winning the Michigan Democratic primary on Tuesday, former state representative Rashida Tlaib, is expected to win November’s midterm election for a two-year term that will begin in January 2019.

The 42-year-old daughter of Palestinian immigrants won the state’s 13th congressional district by securing 33.6% of the vote. Her nearest rival was Detroit City Council President, Brenda James, who received 28.5% of the votes, followed by Bill Wild, who received 14.5%, according to the Detroit Free Press. No Republicans or third-party candidates entered the primary, according to Al Jazeera.

The Michigan native is also running in a special election that will determine who will complete the last two months of John Conyers’ term. Conyers recently ended a 52-year career in Congress citing health reasons amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Thank you so much for making this unbelievable moment possible. I am at a loss for words. I cannot wait to serve you in Congress,” Tlaib wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.

Between 2009 and 2014, Tlaib served in the Michigan House of Representatives. Last week, she told ABC news that her decision to run for public office again was prompted by the increasing number of attacks against American-Muslims and immigrants since Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016.

“I didn’t run because my election would be historic. I ran because of injustices and because of my boys, who are questioning their [Muslim] identity and whether they belong,” Tlaib told ABC.

“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,” she said.“Showing people it can be done would be a victory to my family.”

In its third annual poll published in May, the Institute for Social Policy, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C. and Michigan, found that hate crimes had increased to unprecedented levels during Trump’s presidential campaign and have continued during his presidency.

Since last year, there has been a 15% increase in Islamophobic-related crimes in the U.S., according to a study from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

However, the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. has not caused American-Muslims to isolate themselves in fear. In fact, since 2001, Muslim-Americans, and other community members, have become “more engaged and involved in all arenas of American life-from culture to politics,” according to Wajahat Ali, a New York Times writer who covers religion, family, life, and U.S. politics. Tlaib is a part of a broader wave of Muslim-Americans who are running for public office.

“The bright side of all of this is that over the past several years, Muslims have climbed steadily in the percentage [of people who] report being registered to vote,” said Dalia Mogahed, ISPU’s director of research and former adviser on Muslim affairs during the Barack Obama administration.

“While things have gotten a lot harder, the response in many cases is greater engagement, not isolation . . . .  Muslims are less satisfied with the direction of the country but they are more politically engaged.”

The 2018 midterm elections have seen Muslim-Americans participate in record numbers with at least 90 candidates running for public office, according to Jetpac, a nonprofit that promotes civic engagement among the country’s 3.45 million-person religious minority.

However, Muslim-American candidates still face considerable discrimination as they campaign for these positions. Deedra Abboud, a lawyer, civil rights activist, and a Democratic hopeful for U.S. Senate from Arizona, is just one of many examples. Abboud claims that her headscarf has made her a target of Islamophobic harassment online and at rallies.

“Some come to events to deliberately attack…. We allow them to stay because when you are running an elected office you don’t choose your constituency,” said Abboud who still faces an uphill battle in Arizona’s senate race set to take place on August 28. Similar incidents of discrimination have been reported by local media outlets across the U.S..

Despite all attempts to undermine their campaigns, Muslim-American candidates have refused to succumb to the pressure, choosing instead to focus on the concerns of their communities and what unites the American people.

Ahead of the Michigan Democratic primary, El Sayed told Al Jazeera that “Michiganders are less concerned about how I pray.”

“They care more about what I pray for: my family, my community, my state and my country. There is so much more that we have in common than those who wish to divide us want us to believe.”

Tlaib shared a similar sentiment in an interview with MSNBC last week when she said that “our country is not divided… I believe that we’re disconnected…I’m hoping to be able to build a lot of that connection so that people can see just how beautiful our country is.”

Muslim-Americans are not the only demographic that has been driven to run for public office in 2018. The turbulent political environment caused by the inflammatory rhetoric during Trump’s presidency has also spurred an unprecedented number of Latinos, Native Americans, and women to run.

According to Arizona’s U.S. senate hopeful Abboud, the widespread backlash against Muslim Americans, and other minorities, faced after September 11 was “nothing compared to where we are heading” under Trump. That’s why it is important for minority candidates, like Tlaib, to run for public office. Not only will this move make more U.S. political institutions more diverse, it will also ensure that the opinions, needs, and concerns of all American citizens are being represented at all levels.