I’m the first Muslim in Congress. I believe America can beat Islamophobia.
Before that day, America’s Muslim community wasn’t the focus of much political discussion. Now, Islam and Muslims are regular topics on talk shows and in headlines, often in a negative light. The political landscape has changed dramatically for America’s Muslim community — for better and worse. Increased Muslim visibility and engagement in the community are occurring at the same time as an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, and this is not a coincidence: A recent study by the Bridge Initiative found that anti-Muslim crimes have increased during this election season, with 2015 having the most anti-Muslim violence and vandalism of any year since 9/11. Looking at the data, there is a clear uptick in anti-Muslim crime associated with the rise of Donald Trump. In fact, two Somali Muslim men were recently shot in my own city of Minneapolis because of their faith. For American Muslims, the period since 9/11 has represented both progress and peril — and many fear what may lie ahead.
On the good side, President Obama just nominated America’s first Muslim federal judge, Abid Qureshi. Ibtihaj Muhammad just won an Olympic bronze medal in fencing – hijab and all. Seven Muslims addressed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, including the electrifying presentation of Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan. Thirty-three-year-old Ilhan Omar, who lived in a Somali refugee camp from the ages of 8 to 12, is poised to be elected to the Minnesota state legislature on a decidedly progressive platform. And today’s Muslim community is voting, running for office, opening businesses and starting health clinics like never before.
When I first came to Congress after 9/11, I certainly faced challenges: Glenn Beck asked me to prove I wasn’t working with our nation’s enemies; Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) warned his constituents that unless America supported his exclusive vision of immigration, there would be “many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.” But I took these things in stride because I expected negative reactions from some people to the first Muslim congressman.