Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar Become First Muslim Congresswomen

Omar, a Somali-American, follows Tlaib, who has Palestinians roots, into Congress

Rashida Tlaib (R) and Ilhan Omar
Jim Mone and Rebecca Cook / AP, REUTERS

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SAN FRANCISCO – It was a historic election night for Muslim-Americans, as Rashida Tlaib won her race in Michigan's 13th Congressional District, a victory that made her the first female Muslim to be elected to the House of Representatives. She was followed by fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who won the seat formerly occupied by Keith Ellison (who held the honor of being the first Muslim congressman). 

Tlaib is a Palestinian-American whose mother is from Beit Ur al-Fauqa, outside Ramallah, and her father from Beit Hanina, an East Jerusalem neighborhood. Omar is a Somali-American whose family fled their native country in 1991 and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States.

Both candidates weathered controversies regarding their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Tlaib had her endorsement from the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street withdrawn after she refused to endorse a two-state solution.

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Tlaib won her state's primary election, which set her to become the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress. There was no Republican running for the seat in the heavily Democratic-leaning district, meaning Tlaib was virtually guaranteed to win the seat on Tuesday. 

Though not Muslim, Democrat Donna Shalala joined Tlaib as a newly-elected Arab-American woman in Congress after winning her race in Florida’s 27th District. Shalala, who served as the secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration is a Lebanese-American, born into a Maronite Catholic family in Ohio.

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Omar, who ran for Congress in a heavily African-American and very Democratic district, was also guaranteed victory and joined Tlaib in the House of Representatives. 

Tlaib congratulated Omar on Twitter after her primary victory with the message: "I can't wait to walk onto the floor of United States Congress hand in hand with you. So incredibly proud of you."

Omar addressed her supporters in a tweet, saying: "Today is about more than winning, it's about building a coalition to fight the politics of fear and scarcity. I'm a legislator, a refugee, and a working mom. But above all, I'm an organizer. And I'm ready to organize for the America we deserve. I'm asking you to join me."