It was just two years ago that 55-year-old Ghazala Hashmi felt unnerved by President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and knew she had to do something about it. This week she did, becoming the first Muslim elected to Virginia’s state Senate.
“Having the president of the United States target a minority community in this way, was deeply concerning to me,” Hashmi told HuffPost. “I knew that more of us need to be visible and that we have to speak out.” Shortly after Trump signed Executive Order 13769, which barred citizens from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the country, Hashmi began to plan her campaign.
Hashmi, a Democrat, unseated Republican Glen Sturtevant in the state Senate. Her win –– which was recognized by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton –– was part of a blue wave in which Democrats in Virginia flipped both the state Senate and the House of Delegates. The momentous takeover is the first time in over a quarter-century that the Democrats have full control of both legislative chambers and the governorship.
The longtime educator will represent the state’s 10th Senate District, a population in and around Richmond that is predominately white and “was not a district that easy to flip,” she said. A daughter of Indian immigrants, Hashmi pointed to the value of networking, building support on the ground and not engaging in the bigoted attacks that were sometimes aimed against her as factors that secured her win.
“I fully expected that there’s been a great deal of Islamophobia, and just the traditional trolling, that is now the unfortunate part of our politics,” said Hashmi.
Born in a small rural town in Georgia, Hashmi graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern University and a doctorate in American literature from Emory University in Atlanta. She shortly moved to Virginia after marrying her husband and has been a resident of the state, where she has been an educator, for nearly 30 years.
Her comprehensive experience in higher education is at the top of her priorities. Once she’s sworn in in January 2020, one of her action items will be to restore funding to Virginia’s public schools and increase teacher pay.
Hashmi joins other Muslim women who secured historic wins on Tuesday, including 24-year-old Abrar Omeish, who is also from Virginia and shares the accolade with Hashmi as one of the first Muslim women elected in the state, as well as being the youngest woman to hold elected office in Virginia’s history. In Minnesota, Nadia Mohamed became the first Muslim and Somali person elected to the St. Louis Park City Council. Meanwhile in Maine, Safiya Khalid, another Somali Muslim woman, became the youngest person and the first Somali immigrant elected to the Lewiston City Council.
If there’s one thing Hashmi and the group of newly elected Muslim women have shown, it is that they are not intimidated by the political system, but rather are tackling it head-on.
“Ghazala Hashmi is an American name,” said Hashmi. “It resonates because a lot of times we just need to understand that the concept and the ideals of America are as broad and as diverse as all of the people that live here.”