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13 Muslim American Women Who Ran for Office During the Trump Presidency
Current Events
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Oct 13, 2020
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10 MIN READ
Nargis Rahman
contributing writer
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Some of the dynamic Muslim American women who ran for office in the last four years.
Nargis Rahman
contributing writer
Since March the global pandemic has forced us to find new norms for voting during the primaries and upcoming general election for local elected officials and the presidency. Despite absentee ballots getting lost in the backlogged mail system and the chaos of determining whether to vote in person or not, many Muslim Americans are determined to vote. More Muslim American candidates ran for office in this election year since 9/11, says organizations like Jetpac, CAIR and Emgage*, which track the number of Muslims seeking an elected seat and according to the Associated Press.
With the global pandemic and a presidential election year, we anticipate Islamophobic rhetoric to continue. Haute Hijab began the #ThisIsWhatAmericaLooksLike campaign last spring to challenge bigotry, racism and xenophobia. The COVID-19 global pandemic derailed our (and everyone’s) work for months. But with the presidential election less than a month a way, we want to bring your focus back to amazing Muslim women who took a stand in this election year (and since Trump took office) and ran for (or are running for) state, county or local government offices. This list includes those who are working hard to win their election, already won their elections or may have lost, because the hard work to get elected deserves recognition too.
From school boards to congressional seats, here are 13 Muslim women from around who are trying to make a difference in their communities.
We also know there have been way more than 13! Let us know who we have missed!
1. Nida Allam Durham County Commissioner
Nida Allam made history in winning the election for Durham County Commissioner as “the first Muslim woman to win an elected seat in North Carolina.” She was driven to politics after the death of her best friend Yusor Abu-Salha, who was executed with her husband Deah Barakat and sister Razan Abu-Salha in 2015 Chapel Hill shooting. They are known as Our Three Winners in the Muslim community. Nida advocates for police reform, mental health and promoting women and POC-led businesses. In 2018, Nida served as the Chair of Council for the Mayor’s Council for Women in Durham. In 2017 she served as the third vice chair for North Carolina’s Democratic Party and in 2016 she was the political director for then presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sander.
2. Zahra Suratwala DuPage County Board in District 1
Writer, author and co-founder of the “I Speak for Myself” series, Zahra Suratwala knows what it means to have your own voice as a Muslim. Zahra is taking a second chance at running for the Democratic seat on the DuPage County Board, representing District 1 in Illinois. She fell short of votes in 2018 but is running again in the November 2020 elections. Zahra serves as an English professor at Elgin Community College. She provided cross-cultural training with the U.S. Department of State in Thailand and Cambodia. The mother of two said she ran for office after hearing President Barack Obama’s farewell speech, and to set an example for her kids. She told the Atlantic, “The flippancy with which he said ‘run for office’ planted a seed in my mind.”
3. Safiya Khalid Lewiston City Council
At 23-years-old, Safiya Khalid is believed to be the youngest person and first Somali immigrant seated on the Lewiston City Council in Maine. Although Safiya faced a lot of bigotry while campaigning in November 2019, she won with 70 percent of the votes. After winning she said, “community organizers beat internet trolls.”
4. Nadia Mohamed St. Louis Park Council
Somali refugee Nadia Mohamed moved to St. Louis Park, Minn. as a 10-year-old. Now the 23-year-old is the city council’s first Muslim Somali woman. Nadia won with 63 percent of first-choice votes in November 2019, replacing Thom Miller, who advocated for fresh diverse voices. She was endorsed by Miller and Mayor Jake Spano. Nadia previously served on the St. Louis Park Multicultural Advisory Committee. Nadia said she ran to bridge cultures and communities, advocate for affordable housing, and youth engagement. Haute Hijab contributor Layla Abdullah-Poulos interviewed her earlier this year.
5. Ghazala Hashmi Virginia State Senator - District 10
Before becoming Virginia’s first Muslim state senator in the Virginia General Assembly, Ghazala Hashmi taught literature and was a community college administrator. After President Trump announced the 2017 travel ban, Ghazala reflected on her place in the United States and her rights as an American. She was born in India and came to the states when she was four, which as an adult caused her to ponder on what was “home” to her when the Muslim Ban was enacted and the rhetoric of telling Muslims and others to “go home” increased. This inspired Ghazala to run for office. One of the most compelling moments in her campaign was her slogan, “Ghazala Hashmi is an American Name.” Ghazala replaced a Republican incumbent, helping to switch the General Assembly to Democratic control.
6. Mehreen Butt Wakefield Town Council
Mehreen Butt has always been a part of politics, helping with voter drives and working on policy change for healthcare and poverty as an attorney. She took a chance at running for a Wakefield Town Council in Massachusetts member in 2017 and again in April 2019, making history as the first Muslim American woman to hold a local elected seat in Massachusettes. Mehreen said she is often the only woman of color at the table. She wants to normalize people like her running for office.
7. Afroz Khan Newburyport City Council
An engineer by trade, Afroz Khan is the Councillor at Large in Newburyport, Mass. Afroz actively engages her community by putting together community forums for residents. Afroz became the first Muslim woman to serve Newburyport’s City Council in 2017. Last year she shed a light on Ramadan for her neighbors and community as part of the city’s Human Rights Commission-sponsored community iftar, in conjunction with a “Ask A Muslim Anything.” She is currently serving her second term starting 2019.
8. Sumbul Siddiqui – Cambridge City Council Mayor
Sumbul Siddiqui moved to the U.S. when she was two-years-old with her family. She became the first Muslim mayor in Massachusetts in Cambridge City for 2020-2021. She previously served as a city councillor, and was a part of the Mayor’s Task Force on Tenant Displacement. Sunbul studied political science at Brown University and law at Northwestern University. She is an attorney at Northeast Legal Aid, served on the Cambridge School Volunteers and is a member of the Cambridge's Human Services Commission. Sunbul says she faced a lot of Islamophobia while running for office. She wants to be remembered as someone who made government more accessible.
9. Jamillah Beasley Irvington Municipal Council
Politics and making a difference in people’s lives is something Jamillah Beasley grew up with, watching her father, D. Bilal Beasley, exemplifying and shadowing his work. She followed in his footsteps, serving in public office for more than 20 years in various roles and was first elected to office in 2008 as the District Leader for the West Ward, 2nd District. In April 2019, Jamillah was elected to serve on the South Ward Council Member for the Irvington Municipal Council, where she sits on the Housing & Redevelopment, Recreation and Sanitation/Quality of Life council committees. She believes in improving the quality of people’s lives.
10. Zahra Roach – Pasco City Council
A teacher by trade, Zahra Roach has been living in Pasco, Washington for 30 years and taught for five years. She won a city council seat in November of 2019. She’s an executive board member of the Eastern Washington’s Children's Developmental Center, which provides therapy and support for children born with developmental delays. Prior to her city council role, she was the chair of the Pasco Planning Commission, where she served for eight years,and is known for bringing people together.
11. Varisha Khan Redmond City Council
That every vote counts is an understatement for Varisha Khan’s win for a seat at the Redmond City Council in Washington. The 24-year-old narrowly beat Hank Myers, a three-term incumbent. Khan is one of two of the first Muslim women to be elected in Washington to public office. Khan said she received flack for being too young, a hijabi, and was asked questions about whether she’d bring Shariah law to Redmond while door-to-door campaigning. Naturally, she was criticized by conservative media. She represents a district with over 67,000 residents - half people of color and 40 percent immigrants. Varisha has a background in journalism and political science.
12. Bushra Amiwala – Skokie School District
Bushra Amiwala is the first and “youngest Muslim” and Pakistani American woman to run for a Cook County commissioner seat in Chicago as a 19-year-old in 2017. While she didn’t win her commissioner seat, she and 250 volunteers registered 2,000 people to vote - 30 percent of them first time voters. She garnered national attention as the first elected Muslim woman to the Skokie School District 73.5 in April 2020. She was one of the Glamour Magazine College Women of the Year in 2018. In a TedTalk, Bushra says she learned to be confident despite being written about more for her fashion, gender and identity as a Muslim Pakistani American woman rather than her policies in education, hunger and homelessness. She said while campaigning, she learned she was one of the only Muslims some people had ever met.
13. Saima Khalil Macomb County Prosecutor
Attorney Saima Khalil grew up in Warren, Mich. The staff attorney for Lakeshore Legal Aid serves low income families in Macomb County, such as senior citizens, domestic violence and underserved communities. Khalil previously worked for her private practice. She serves as a director with the Michigan County Bar Association. In August of 2020, she ran against seven others in the primaries for a four-year term, garnering more than 15,000 votes, the third highest votes. The first generation Pakistani American is the first Muslim woman to run for county prosecutor in Michigan to “represent all of the voices in Macomb County.” She hopes to incorporate mental health into the legal system. She said the prosecutor’s office should do more to help low income families who are disadvantaged and often derailed by the legal system. While Saima garnered 15,456 votes (17.2 percent of the votes) she unfortunately lost to Mary A. Chrzanowki, who had 34.6 percent of the votes.
These women have displayed their commitment to bettering communities and working for the betterment of American communities in the public sector. Muslim women are claiming spaces that have often left them out of the public discourse. With the Muslim Bans and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the public sphere, these women are changing the game and creating new ways to give back, speak for themselves and uplift their communities.
*Additional Resources
1. Jetpac, CAIR, a national civil rights organization for Muslims, and MPower Change, put out this list of people who ran or won elected seats in November 2019.
2. Emgage, a nonprofit which aims to educate and empower Muslim voters, posted this list.
3. CAIR has a master list of people who ran for office from 1988-2020.
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