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Americans elect Muslim women to Congress for the first time

Updated November 07, 2018

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Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. — Photos courtesy agencies
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. — Photos courtesy agencies

Americans created history on Tuesday when they elected two Muslim women – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – to Congress.

Although Muslim men have been elected to Congress before, Ilhan and Rashida are the first Muslim women to represent Americans in the US House of Representatives.

Ilhan, 37, was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 4, 1981. In 2016, she was elected a Democratic Party member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American legislator elected to a public office in the United States.

A hijab wearing mother of three, Ilhan is married to a Somali-American Ahmed Hirsi. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics from North Dakota State University and has also studied public affairs.

She won the Democratic primary on August 14, 2018 and contested the election on a party ticket.

Read: A Muslim congresswoman

Ilhan's father, Nur Omar Mohamed, is a teacher trainer. Her mother died when Ilhan was a child and she was raised by her father and grandfather. After the start of the civil war in 1991, she and her family fled Somalia and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya.

In 1995, they emigrated to the United States, initially settling in Arlington, Virginia and then moving to Minneapolis.

Ilhan ran from Minnesota’s 5th district, a deeply Democratic area previously represented by a fellow Muslim, Keith Ellison, who won six terms from here.

She beat Republican Jennifer Zielinski to take Keith Ellison’s seat, which he vacated to run for Minnesota attorney general.

Rashida Tlaib

Technically, Palestinian-American Rashida Harbi Tlaib is the first American Muslim woman to be elected to Congress. Although her election was officially announced on Tuesday, she was elected unopposed as no one came forward to challenge Rashida in another deeply Democratic district.

Rashida, who is associated with a socialist group within the Democratic Party, is also very popular in this constituency.

On January 1, 2009, Rashida became the first Muslim American woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature, and the second Muslim woman in history to be elected to any US state legislature.

In 2018, she won the Democratic nomination for Michigan's 13th congressional district and won unopposed.

She was born on July 24, 1976, to working-class Palestinian immigrants in Detroit and is the eldest of 14 children. Her parents were both born in Palestine.

Rashida played a major role in raising her siblings as her parents worked or relied on welfare are for support.

She graduated from Wayne State University with a BA in political science in 1998 and in 2004, she earned a law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Rashida is also the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress.