On Tuesday night, Somali Muslim refugee Ilhan Omar became one of the first Muslim congresswomen in U.S. history, alongside Rashida Tlaib. At her acceptance speech, Omar greeted the audience with a powerful “As-Salam-Alaikum.”
Many Muslims felt this was a homecoming. American Muslims now had Muslim representation in Congress after what they felt were two tumultuous years of a Trump presidency. Writer and host Aymann Ismail shared how he felt “transported” by the gesture. However, others were not quite so sure they were comfortable with it.
Li Izmir runs a popular Facebook page called Secular Muslim Women Group. It was there she confided her conflicted feelings about Omar’s gesture, admitting, “I feel mixed about this. I’m happy to see Muslim representation (and I think both Muslim women support LGBTQ+ rights) but I don’t like religious rhetoric coming from government officials … regardless of which faith is being brought into politics. Why can’t we just all swear on the Constitution and keep religion out of politics?”
Her honest admission brought forward a dialogue among the women, many of whom were also not quick to celebrate what they saw as religious rhetoric by an elected official:
“Agree. If we want to be seen like all other US citizens and we want other religions out of government, then bringing forth ours is wrong.” – K. S.
“Instead of abolishing the rhetoric, Muslims entering politics are overly enthusiastic about displaying/implementing their religion. That’s a bit problematic because constitution > religion…and this move goes against the current struggle we have with the Christian Right.” – R. K. Gohar
Others, for whom we do not have permission to publicly share their posts, believed that Omar should have been more sensitive as an elected leader and not acted as a way that would further ‘ignite’ an already hostile Christian base.
While not all the ladies in the thread agreed, one salient point here is the we were able to have that conversation peacefully without accusing each other of being racists, bigots or Islamophobes.
As Congresswoman-elect Omar becomes Congresswoman Omar, there will be a significant review of her actions and rhetoric. We should be able to discuss her time in office with integrity and respect for each other, as was done here.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to more deeply respect the privacy of the women being quoted.