Trump heckler set to be first Muslim woman in Congress
Rashida Tlaib is on her way up, with a wave of grassroots support behind her
Rashida Tlaib is poised to become the first Muslim woman in the US Congress – and has Donald Trump to thank for spurring her on in her political career.
The Democrat believes there is a “sense of urgency” driving left-wing and female voters in the midterm elections, where she is running unopposed in her home city of Detroit.
“Trump was a bit of a bat signal for women in general of being engaged,” she said. “I remember when people came to vote for Barack Obama and there was kind of a waltz to it, it was like this confidence and people were excited to vote. This time, people are marching. It’s like: ‘Move out the way, I’ve got to do this.’”
Tlaib’s ascent came after five years in local politics, when a wave of grassroots support saw her win the Democratic nomination. Since there is no Republican standing in the deeply blue district, she is all but sure to win a seat in Congress on November 6.
Tlaib believes a deeper momentum has been building for years, but she credits part of the surge to the Trump presidency.
“I think he pushed us over the cliff,” she said. “I feel like we go through stages in the United States with all parties, where a new group or generation – in this case a generation of women – who are running for office because they see injustice and they feel a sense of need to speak up and not be silenced.”
She accepts that there is still Islamophobia, but she draws hope from the Muslim candidates now becoming politicians. “Muslims are now saying: ‘Okay we’re not going to be still,’” she said.
Congress, as it stands, is far from diverse: more than 90% of members are Christian, 5.6% are Jewish and the two Muslim members are heavily outflanked by 13 Mormons.
Despite there being more women in the Senate and House of Representatives than at any other time since 1789, they still make up only 20% of its membership. About 90 Muslim candidates are running for office this year – the highest number at any point since the September 11 attack in 2001, according to political advocacy group JetPac.
Born to Palestinian immigrants and the eldest of 14 children, Tlaib came to national attention two years ago when she was arrested for heckling Trump during a speech in Detroit.
Tlaib is not a particularly conservative Muslim, but faith is an important part of her life. The gruelling campaign schedule did not stop her from fasting for Ramadaan in June before the Democratic primary vote.
“It’s not about just being out there and flaunting your faith,” she told CNN earlier this year. “I always tell people that I’m exposing Islam in such a pivotal way, an impactful way, through public service.”
Her political rise has not been without fractious moments. Once, at a state legislature, she said the chair of a committee jokingly asked for her birth certificate. “He thought it was very funny,” she said. “I was very much seen by some of my colleagues as nothing but a Muslim and in their eyes that meant I was less than them I’m sure.”
The incident mirrored Trump’s repeated demands that Barack Obama reveal his birth certificate during his time as president. But Tlaib said her experience of prejudice was largely a one-off.
“The majority of my colleagues treated me very well,” she added.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited