This incoming batch of congressmen and congresswomen are more diverse than ever, mainly due to Democratic victories. There will be more than 100 women, about 26 percent of Congress will be non-white, there will be two Native American women in Congress and the title of “The First Muslim Woman in Congress” will be shared by two women: Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Ilhan Omar (MN-5).
Both women present impressive feats— a publicly elected, female Muslim— in a time when Islamophobia is very high. The latter, Omar, wears a traditional headscarf (or hijab), one donned by many Muslim women for religious and cultural reasons. Being elected to a public position does not mean she will leave her values behind, which is why she is co-sponsoring a change (alongside Nancy Pelosi and Jim McGovern) in the current House rules, which prohibit headwear.
This 181-year old rule they are trying to change would, for the first time, allow religious headwear to be worn, which would theoretically include the Jewish Kippah and Sikh turban as well. I am proud of Omar for not only being elected, but also instigating positive change that will benefit many in the future.
I am also proud of her for representing me. I am not from Minnesota’s fifth Congressional district, but rather I am a Muslim woman who also wears the hijab. To me, it is amazing to see someone who looks like me in the government, enacting legislation and steering the direction of this country. She is an inspiration to all, but especially Muslim women. For she has shown them that the sky’s the limit.
Some Muslim women are discouraged from public and/or government careers for the fear that they will not be accepted by American society at large. There are still large misconceptions about Islam in America.
In a study done by Pew Research in 2017, 50 percent of Americans say Islam is not a part of mainstream society, while only 43 percent say it is. In this same study, 44 percent of Americans believe there is a “natural conflict” between Islam and democracy.
Despite these grave misgivings, Omar will be sworn into office Jan. 3. I have no doubt that she will execute her position in a professional and effective manner, thereby breaking many of the preconceived notions some Americans hold.