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WASHINGTON: Americans created history on Wednesday when they elected two Muslim women — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — to the US House of Representatives.

New Hampshire elected an Afghan woman, Safiya Wazir to the state legislature. She is the first Muslim woman and the first former refugee to win from there.

The midterm elections also brought a record number of women, 98, to US Congress from across the political spectrum, 84 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

Although Muslim men have been elected to the US 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 Oct 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 US.

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 Aug 14 and contested the election on a party ticket.

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.

Technically, Palestinian-American Rashida is the first American Muslim woman to be elected to Congress. Although her election was officially announced on Wednesday, 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 Jan 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.

Rashida 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. She played a major role in raising her siblings as her parents worked or relied on welfare for support. Rashida 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. She is also the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress.

Safiya, a 27-year-old mother of two, whose family fled persecution from the Taliban in Afghanistan, beat out Republican Dennis Soucy to earn a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Safiya is also the first former refugee to serve in the State House. She spent several years in a refugee camp in Uzbekistan before coming to the United States. In September, Safiya beat the four-term State Representative Dick Patten in the Democratic primary.

Americans also elected a record number of 98 women in the 2018 midterm, with 33 women newly elected to the House and 65 incumbents. The Congressional Research service says that it beats the previous record of 85 women representatives in the outgoing Congress. Both parties have nominated women for the two outstanding races, which would bring the total of women House members to 100, once these races are decided.

The Senate will also have 12 women — with two newly elected women joining the incumbents. Eight women — four incumbents and four non-incumbents — were winning gubernatorial races.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2018