It’s been a tough time to be Muslim in Minnesota in the last few months. Not least because of a certain man who’s now President-Elect.
‘Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval,’ Trump said days before the election. ‘Some of them [are] joining Isis and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world.’
But there has been a ray of light. 34-year-old Ilhan Omar has been elected to Minnesota’s state house of representatives.
She will be the first Somali-American legislator – the first Muslim, east African woman to hold public office.
Here’s what you need to know about her.
Ilhan Omar fled Somalia in 1991 and lived for four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She moved to Minneapolis in America in 1997.
She was born in 1981. She is married with three children.
‘I wear a hijab and that’s going to be a problem, but once one person is able to do that, it then allows other people to dream too,’ she recently told the Guardian newspaper.
New to Minneapolis, Omar learnt English in three months. She would attend the political meeting with her grandfather, and translate for him. ‘It was a free process and it wasn’t like the one he was exposed to,’ she said. ‘In America you could be involved in a political party and you didn’t have to be a member of a specific class.’
Her Twitter profile makes her sound pretty cool:
‘Intersectional feminist, mom, part-time social justice crusader, full-time political junkie, candidate for MN House 60B.’
She told the Guardian that there is a ‘shift in young people like myself who are immigrants and are excited about getting involved in the system, while a lot of our elders are focused on being a good citizen and voting only.’
Two years ago she was beaten up by eight to ten people during a political meeting. This has not discouraged her:
‘For me, if I can have a conversation with people who have had hundreds of years of a history of being oppressed and it still tells them that they need to vote and that there’s hope and that they can make change, it would be sort of hypocritical of me to say this thing happened to me and I’m no longer interested.’
She is the Director of Policy & Initiatives at Women Organizing Women. WOW works to engage and empower East African women to take civic leadership roles and see themselves as leaders within their communities.
Omar won the state House race for Minnesota after previously unseating Phyllis Kahn, who served for 44 years. In the same election, she also defeated computer scientist, activist and politician Mohamud Noor, who is also a Somali refugee. Omar won 2,404 votes, which is 40.95 percent of the vote.
And they did.