I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m feeling emotional today – proud, hopeful, cautiously optimistic and dare I say, joyful about the future of governing in our country.
U.S. Congressional Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) were sworn in today on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. – the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Rashida, a Palestinian-American and Ilhan, a Somali-American who came to this country as a refugee and wears a hijab. Ilhan had to work to overturn a ban against head coverings, as we wrote about last month here on the blog
. Now Democrats are set to change that ban, making her the first woman to wear hijab as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives
As my fellow journalism colleague Sawsan Morrar summed it up on Facebook: “Today is the day that islamophobes [sic] will have to watch two Muslim women being sworn into Congress (and into positions of power). One wearing a hijab, the other wearing a Palestinian thobe. Using President Thomas Jefferson’s Quran (that most Americans probably never knew existed).”
Just pause for a moment and think about that.
Because for thousands (if not millions) of women like me, it’s a pretty significant set of firsts in the face some recent difficult years for American Muslims and Muslims. I am a first-generation born-and-raised American Muslim raising three proud American-Muslim children - one in elementary school and two in high school. I started wearing my hijab about 15 years ago when in my 20s, and have chronicled the issues, stories, trends and news of American Muslims in my nearly two-decades of journalism work.
In the past few years I’ve had to comfort, uplift and encourage my children to embrace being unapologetically American Muslim more times than I ever thought I’d have to. That feeling I had growing up in the heart of the Midwest – being welcome/included while also feeling like an outsider – my children still feel that way now, albeit in ways that are uniquely different from my childhood and teenage experiences, and arguably sometimes worse.
So, to be able to tell them today that Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were sworn in as members of the United States House of Representatives is something I cherish immensely. Because now it’s not just me telling them that representation matters, that women matter, that Muslim women matter. It’s me showing them.
In a recent interview with Elle
, Ilhan talked about growing up in a family where everyone was given importance:
I grew up in a household where we all celebrated who we were. There was no space to make people feel different or "less than." There was no special treatment for the boys or the girls; we were all the same. My parents and grandparents felt that we all had the qualities we needed to be leaders. We didn't grow up in a household that believed in hierarchy or in asking for permission or in waiting your turn when it came to participation. Even when I was little, my father, my grandfather, my aunts and uncles, would ask me my opinions and encourage me to make choices. I got to choose what I wanted to eat, how I wanted to dress, if I wanted to stay in the particular classroom I was in, if I didn't like my teacher. No one ever said to me, "This is what we do." That was empowering, even when we were kids. We internalized that we had power.
This is what I want my kids and all of us to internalize as well. My social media timeline is lit up with expressions of pride, joy, hope and excitement. But, we are not naive. We know politics and governing is a messy, often ugly affair. However, it can also be, when done with integrity and strength of courage, such an important, impactful thing.
In a tweet yesterday, Ilhan wrote, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress."
It’s a good day, indeed.