Last week, Ilhan Omar became the first hijab-wearing woman and African refugee elected into US Congress. And in the wake of her victory, the politician began her acceptance speech with “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” an Islamic phrase that translates to “Peace be upon you”, which Muslims (and non-Muslims) worldwide use to greet each other. The Somali-born politician, who ran as Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s nominee, addressed a crowd of supporters in Minneapolis during a victory party last week. She then continued her emotionally-charged victory speech by offering her gratitude to God. “Alhamdulillah,” (All praise be to Allah) she repeated three times.
“I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name,” she said triumphantly. “The first woman of color to represent our state in Congress. The first woman to wear a hijab. The first refugee ever elected to Congress. And one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.”
“We will fight to abolish ICE, keep families together, protect refugees, protect women’s right to choose, and fight against climate change,” she declared to rapturous applause. “And as we fight for our immigrant families, our neighbors, our children, our planet, our communities, I promise to always have your back.”
It was this very progressive platform she ran that helped the 35-year-old candidate win Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District and thereby secure the seat vacated by Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who became the first Muslim elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Omar grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing her nation due to civil unrest. She spent four years in a camp in Mombasa before settling in Minnesota with her family in 1995, aged 12, where she learned English by watching American TV. The mother of three would go on to obtain her bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from North Dakota State University in 2011. She first started gaining traction two years ago, when she became the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature in Minnesota.
The history-making US Representative-elect will assume office in January, joining Rashida Tlaib — the daughter of Palestinian immigrants – as one of the first two Muslim women elected to the United States House of Representatives.