Reps. Tlaib, Omar, and Carson headline CAIR reception

Arlington, VA —The first two Muslim women elected to Congress headlined a meet and greet on Thursday night hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim advocacy organization in the U.S.

Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) drew cheers from the mostly Muslim crowd — a mix of young and old, keffiyehs and business suits, hijabs and high heels. A number of women wore modern versions of the traditional Palestinian thobe — imitating Rep. Tlaib’s swearing-in attire.

Attendees wore modern takes on the traditional Palestinian thobe to the CAIR Congressional Reception welcoming the first two Muslim women to be sworn into Congress, including Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). (Laura Kelly)

The event, which also included remarks by five-term Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), the second Muslim ever elected to Congress, served as a celebration of the increased visibility and presence of Muslims in politics and rallying cry on issues of immigration, racism and religious freedom.

“I don’t want us to be silent when the President of the United States calls Mexicans rapists,” Rep. Tlaib told the crowd. “Don’t wait until he comes after us, speak up now.”

At the start of the event, which took place at the Grand Hyatt in Crystal City, CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said the election of the three leaders is the most visible representation of a massive movement across the country of over 150 Muslims being elected to local, state and federal positions, with fundraising efforts amounting to $18 million.

In the face of an unprecedented number of racial and bigoted attacks on the community, Mr. Awad said, “this campaign has ignited the fire underneath the feet of the American Muslim community, not to hide, not to run away from public office, from politics — but to run for public offices and win.”

It was also announced that Roula Allouch, chair of CAIR’s national board, was recently elected to be ‘steering chair’ of the Women’s March ahead of the second anniversary march expected to take place on January 19th.

During their speeches Reps. Tlaib and Omar both focused on their backgrounds in progressive politics, as disruptive change-makers who upend the narrative of what a Muslim woman is expected to look and act like.

“I will never be perfect, I won’t be your perfect polished politician, people back home love me like this, they love it,” Rep. Tlaib said, alluding to her remarks last week when, hours after her swearing-in to the House of Representatives, she called President Trump an expletive and threatened impeachment.

With the government 20 days in a partial shutdown, Jinan Shbat, the national outreach manager for CAIR, expressed hope that when Congress gets back to work, issues like the immigration, healthcare, and the ‘Muslim ban,’ will be on the agenda of the three Muslim representatives.

On legislation related to Israel, Ms. Shbat deferred, saying that she can’t speak for Reps. Omar and Tlaib — who have both expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS)— but said that CAIR has been open about opposing any law that would infringe on freedom of speech.

“When it comes to the BDS movement, we [CAIR] have a stance that we believe that [anti-BDS legislation] is an infringement on our First Amendment right and that it shouldn’t be…passed regardless of what it’s supporting, she said.

Ms. Shbat said the event came together in about a week and called it a “huge success,” echoing the sentiment of young Muslim women seeing themselves reflected back for the first time from political office.

“As Muslim women it’s a lot different when you see two younger, Muslim women — one that wears hijab, one that was a refugee, the other one who is Palestinian and I’m Palestinian, so for me it’s like a direct reflection — just seeing them is so empowering and emboldening,” she said.

“It really gives a different face to the Muslim community in America and I think it’s a very good thing because too often we obviously hear of Muslim women’s image being more so of the submissive and oppressed community and obviously now you can see that it’s not.”

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