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Ilhan Omar, center, applauds during a rally on Nov. 29, 2016, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minneapolis.
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Girls & Women

These 2 Politicians Just Became the First Muslim Women Elected to Congress

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Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women elected to Congress in US history on Tuesday, according to CNN.

After overcoming crowded fields in their primary races in August, both candidates sailed to victory in the general election, with Tlaib going uncontested in Michigan’s 13th District, and Omar prevailing in Minnesota’s heavily Democratic 5th district, HuffPost reports.

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Both candidates campaigned on boldly progressive platforms to “expand what is politically possible,” as Omar frequently says. For instance, they both campaigned to provide relief to student debtors, end the private prison industry and mass incarceration, enact a $15 dollar federal minimum wage, create universal health care, accept more refugees, and more.

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They also contrasted themselves with US President Donald Trump, and the symbolic power of two Muslim women being elected to Congress in the wake of the White House’s series of Muslim bans over past two years was hard to escape. Omar came to the US as a Somali refugee at the age of 12, and Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants.

Trump has disparaged both Somali refugees and Palestinians.

Rashida-Tlaib-Michigan-Election-2018.jpgRashida Tlaib, center, Democratic candidate for Michigan's 13th Congressional District, talks during a rally in Dearborn, Mich., Oct. 26, 2018.
Image: Paul Sancya/AP

The 2018 midterms were in some ways a referendum on Trump, and that was reflected in the record number of candidates from historically marginalized who ran. For example, Muslim candidates ran in record numbers this year, and women were also nominated at an unprecedented rate.

“I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name,” Omar said in her victory speech, to loud cheers and applause. “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.”

“Here in Minnesota we don’t only welcome immigrants,” she added, “we send them to Washington.”

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Tlaib echoed the importance of representation at her victory event on Tuesday night.

"I'm a different kind of public servant," Tlaib told the Free Press. "I do activism work here at home. I grew up in a community that founded the labor rights movement. So much of your representation is so disconnected with what’s happening here at home. So people are going to see that connection again.”

“Being there [in Congress] is going to be important so that my residents feel like they have a seat at the table but also someone with a lot of courage to stand up and speak up,” she added.

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Both Tlaib and Omar had been state legislators in Michigan and Minnesota, respectively, and now they enter the House of Representatives at a time of Democratic control of the chamber.

In the new majority, the two candidates will have a chance to pursue their local agendas at a national level.