Five States Elect First-Ever Muslim Lawmakers, from Oklahoma to Delaware
November 9, 2020
(RNS) — Mauree Turner, a 27-year-old member of Oklahoma City’s Muslim community, became Muslim after learning about the faith from her father, who converted while incarcerated. Black and nonbinary, Turner is also a community organizer who’s long been involved in criminal justice reform.
On Tuesday night (Nov. 3), Turner became the first Muslim to win a seat in Oklahoma’s Legislature.
“Mauree is part of a new generation of Muslim political activists who are changing our community’s civic engagement through effective relational organizing to build diverse coalitions in the fight for economic and racial justice,” said Mohammed Missouri, executive director of Jetpac, a political engagement organization that trains Muslims how to run for office.
More than 100 Muslim candidates ran for elected office this year, including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. The Democratic representatives, who are the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, were re-elected to their second terms on Tuesday night.
Turner was not the only Muslim candidate elected to a statewide office this week, nor was she the only one with a historic victory. On Tuesday, voters in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Oklahoma and Wisconsin all elected their state legislatures’ first Muslim lawmakers. All five candidates ran as Democrats.
“Increasing our political representation is a critical part of defeating the violent rise of Islamophobia, here and around the world, because it forces elected officials and the media to include our perspective in the narrative on health care, the economy, criminal legal system and every other issue impacting American life,” Missouri told Religion News Service.
A political newcomer, Turner defeated Republican Kelly Barlean in the race for state House in Oklahoma’s 88th District after an upset victory in June’s Democratic primary. Turner’s campaign had won endorsements from Omar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Like Turner, many of the Muslims who will be seated in statehouses come January began as activists. In New York, Zohran Kwame Mamdani, a housing counselor for the Democratic Socialists of America, was voted into the state’s Assembly, representing Astoria, Queens. Democrat Charles Fall, who since 2019 served as the only Muslim member of the state Assembly, was also re-elected Tuesday.
Iman Jodeh, a well-known voice in Denver’s Muslim community, will represent Denver and Aurora in the Colorado House of Representatives. Her campaign received endorsements from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Christopher Benjamin, an Army veteran and lawyer, was elected to represent District 107 in Florida’s House of Representatives, and will also be the first Muslim in that body.
“It’s overwhelming. I didn’t campaign with that in mind,” Benjamin said. “This election was the culmination of my studies in political science, my bringing in my community and understanding its needs, and my community having confidence in me to lead in this way. Being the first Muslim ever to be elected statewide is just icing on the cake.”
Madinah Wilson-Anton, a policy analyst at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute, won 72% of the vote in her race for a seat at the Statehouse in Dover, after winning September’s Democratic primary over 11-term incumbent John Viola by a mere 43 votes.
Others, such as Samba Baldeh, a member of the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council since 2015, stepped up from other offices. Baldeh, a Gambian immigrant, was endorsed by Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, now attorney general in neighboring Minnesota.
And in California, Irvine City Council member Farrah Khan has been voted as mayor of Irvine.
But Muslims from every walk of life are making inroads in local politics. In Minnesota, campaign finance analyst Omar Fateh was elected to the state Senate as a Democrat representing District 62; in Michigan, Hamtramck native Abraham Aiyash was elected to represent District 4 in the state’s House of Representatives.
In Oregon, Somali refugee Nafisa Fai has become the first Muslim and first Black person elected to the Washington County Commission.
A notable loss by a Muslim took place in Virginia, where Democrat Qasim Rashid, a Muslim activist and human rights lawyer running a second time to represent Virginia’s 1st Congressional District, lost to Republican Robert Wittman on Tuesday.
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