Dahabo Mohamed, a freshman at Richfield High near Minneapolis, is patiently waiting in the school’s auditorium to meet her Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar. Omar has just finished giving remarks to the student body on a Tuesday morning in late May, and the line of students ahead of Mohamed means she will lose part of her free lunch period, but she doesn’t care. It is rare for her to see someone in a position of power who looks like she does—a Muslim woman in traditional garb—so the free time can wait. “For people like me who wear a hijab, to see her doing what she’s doing is inspiring,” she says.
Omar’s decisive victory last fall was a groundbreaking moment for American Muslims. The 36-year-old former refugee is the first Somali American to serve in Congress. She and her colleague Rashida Tlaib are the first two Muslim-American women to serve in Congress. Congress had to change its rules to allow her to wear her hijab on the floor. For many American Muslims, her election was a sign they were inching toward full acceptance in American society. But since she arrived in Washington, Omar has been embroiled in controversy. Members of her own party, including top leadership, publicly rebuked her after she made comments many deemed anti-Semitic, and she introduced a resolution Wednesday that has potential to re-ignite that debate. Minnesota regulators alleged in June that, as a candidate for the state legislature, she misspent over $3,000 that she is now responsible for reimbursing. President Donald Trump distorted her comments about 9/11 in a Twitter video insinuating that she supported terrorists. Her office says she has received hundreds of death threats.