By Aymann Ismail
When Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar stepped on stage tonight as one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress—the other, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, was also elected Tuesday night—she led with “as-salam alaikum.” Then: “alhamdulillah.” I’m transported. This was not an acceptance speech I expected to hear. In a cycle recently dubbed “the most Islamophobic election ever,” even basic Muslim salutations on a stage like this feel like a tangible achievement.
In her speech, Congresswoman-elect Omar—who trounced her opponent to replace Rep. Keith Ellison, himself the first Muslim ever elected to Congress—described an America that I also recognized. She wasn’t uncritical. She said immigrants who come to America for better lives “are too often met with bigotry and hate.” Indigenous people, she said, “are living in tents like refugees in their own lands.” The people around Omar cheered, for once hearing a politician talk about issues essential to them unapologetically. She ran, she said, because she “could not stand by on the sidelines and watch those promises go unkept.” Many Muslims, some for the first time, will now feel as if they have a real representative in our government.