Five Democratic politicians made history last night by becoming the first Muslim legislators in their respective states.
Three Muslim women won seats in state legislatures on Tuesday. Mauree Turner, who won her race for state House in Oklahoma, will be the first Muslim lawmaker elected to the state’s legislature. In Delaware, Madinah Wilson-Anton became the first Muslim elected to the legislature. Iman Jodeh, who won election to the Colorado House of Representatives, will be the first Muslim lawmaker in the state’s history.
In Wisconsin, Samba Baldeh became the first Muslim elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, as well as the first Black man to represent Dane County in the legislature. Across the country in Florida, Christopher Benjamin became the first Muslim American elected to any state office in the Sunshine State, representing the 107th District in the House of Representatives.
Their historic wins are notable for Democrats, who are closely watching presidential nominee Joe Biden as he stakes out an advantage as counting continued in several too-close-to-call states. Biden, who has been endorsed by several Muslim American officials and organizations, has previously vowed to include Muslim Americans in his administration and repeal Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.
“They are part of a new generation of American Muslim leaders who are changing our community’s civic engagement through effective relational organizing,” said Mohammed Missouri, the executive director of the Justice Education Technology Political Advocacy Center (also known as Jetpac), a political engagement group that trains American Muslims who want to run for public office.
“Muslim women activists, campaign strategists, and politicians are building diverse coalitions to fight for justice in our health care, criminal law, immigration policies, and every other issue impacting American life,” he said. “This work is a critical part of defeating the violent rise of Islamophobia here and around the world.”
Baldeh, a 48-year old Muslim who immigrated from the Gambia to Madison, Wisconsin, in 2000, joined local politics as an unlikely candidate. On Wednesday, he successfully defeated his opponents in the race for state Assembly to represent the 48th District.
“Being the first Muslim to ever be elected at the state Assembly is really exciting, but also an opportunity that I am thankful for,” Baldeh told HuffPost. “I am looking forward to the challenges, but obviously I’m very excited about the opportunity to serve District 48, but also to represent, not only my constituents but my Muslims, Africans, and constituents of color.”
A member of the Madison city council since 2015, Baldeh said he was frustrated by the uptick of Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement and the vilification of Muslims by various political figures which motivated him to run.
“I hope [my win] is also an inspiration to particularly kids of color and Muslims [to show them], ‘Look, we can do this. This is all our country and we should see it as such, and behave as such, and participate as such,’” Baldeh said.
In Delaware, Wilson-Anton first made waves back in September, when she defeated 11-term incumbent John Viola by just 43 votes in the Democratic primary. Last night, she secured her win after defeating her Republican opponent for the District 26 state House race.
Wilson-Anton said she hopes her win will further shatter stereotypes about Muslims and Muslim women being oppressed or timid. She said her win sends a message “to our community that we are a part of this country, no matter if you’re a first-generation or if you’re a descendant of enslaved Africans. We’re all part of this country.”
But more important, Wilson-Anton, who is part a new class of progressives in Delaware, said she’s ready for more widespread representation moving forward.
“Hopefully, we can stop with all the first and have a really diverse government at all levels across the country,” she said.
Benjamin, the lawyer who won his election to Florida’s House outright during the August primary, said he has been looking forward to this day for months.
“This election has been a great journey. I’ve been preparing for this type of office since I was an undergrad at Florida Memorial University, a private historically Black university, where I majored in political science. This is a great completion of that cycle, and to make history on top of it, is almost overwhelming,” he said.
The South Florida native added that he plans to be an outspoken voice at a state level when relates to Muslim issues and plans to begin tackling criminal justice reform and expanding Medicaid for his constituents once in office.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article states that Reps. Omar and Tlaib were the first Muslim members of Congress. They are the first Muslim women elected to Congress; the first two Muslim members of Congress were former Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.).