Rashida Tlaib Will Likely Be the First Muslim Congresswoman

After winning her primary in Michigan, progressive candidate Rashida Tlaib got one step closer to becoming the first Muslim and first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress

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Aug 8 2018, 3:49pm

Rashida Tlaib for Congress/Facebook

In 2008, Rashida Tlaib made history as the first Muslim woman to serve in Michigan's state legislature. A decade later, she's marked another milestone: Tlaib is posed to be the first Muslim and the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in United States Congress.

Tlaib edged out a crowded field of Democratic primary opponents Tuesday night to clinch 33.2 percent of the vote for Michigan's 13th congressional district seat. Since there are no Republicans running for the seat—and because the district is an overwhelmingly Democratic one—Tlaib's primary win makes her the presumptive victor in November's general election.

She'll succeed Representative John Conyers Jr., who stepped down last year amid sexual harassment allegations, ending his streak as the longest-serving member of Congress.

“I want people across the country to know that you don’t need to sell out,” Tlaib told the crowd at her victory party. “You don’t have to change who you are to run for office—and that is what this country is about.”

The significance of becoming the first Muslim congresswoman was certainly on Tlaib's mind as she addressed her supporters early Wednesday morning, but it hadn't necessarily been a prominent talking point in her campaign. In the months she spent knocking on doors across the district, she said her religion rarely came up.

Instead, Tlaib focused her campaign on a slate of progressive priorities including Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and protections for unions.

"It's not about just being out there and flaunting your faith," Tlaib told CNN in July. "I always tell people that I'm exposing Islam in such a pivotal way, an impactful way, through public service."

Tlaib helped form a small wave of Muslim candidates running down ballot in Michigan, all trying to land historic victories.

In the state's 11th congressional district, Fayrouz Saad shared Tlaib's aspiration of becoming the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress, but split the vote among four other Democratic contenders for a loss Tuesday night. With backing from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it seemed possible Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed could become the country's first Muslim governor. Instead, he fell to establishment favorite Gretchen Whitmer.

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Tlaib's victory was the bright spot Tuesday night for voters who want to see more Muslims represented in government, especially during a time when the current administration seems to have the entire religious group in its crosshairs. She's pledged to be a fierce adversary to anyone who targets members of the faith, including President Donald Trump himself.

“I will fight back against every racist and oppressive structure that needs to be dismantled,” Ms. Tlaib said Wednesday, after her primary win. “You deserve better than what we have today with our president.”