Seeking greater representation in national politics, Muslims are running for office in 2018 across the United States both for Congress and state- and local-level positions. According to the Massachusetts-based non-profit organization Jetpac, an unprecendented 90 Muslim candidates initially launched campaigns in this election cycle. That number has gone down to some 50 candidates since primaries began, but it's still a substantial increase from the dozen or so who ran in 2016.
One of the biggest sources of inspiration for first-time candidates this year is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, according to the AP. The democratic socialist's stunning victory last month over veteran Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, who was considered to be a strong contender for the next House speaker, appears to be having a ripple effect. Massachusetts' Tahirah Amtul-Wadud says Ocasio-Cortez's victory spurred more interest in her primary campaign against longtime Democratic Rep. Richard Neal.
"We could barely stay on top of the residual love," she told the AP. "It sent a message to all of our volunteers, voters, and supporters that winning is very possible."
Another candidate, Imtiaz Ahmad Mohammad, is looking to become the first Muslim member in the Florida House of Representatives, according to The Sun Sentinel. Mohammad told the publication that Muslims are underrepresented in national politics: "We do not have a presence in the political arena. My goal in running is to give people a wake-up call that we can run for office. I felt so blessed when I saw my name on the ballot."
In spite of the support shown for the newcomers, there has also been anti-Muslim sentiment expressed in certain states. For Arizona's U.S. Senate candidate Deedra Abboud, the anti-Muslim rhetoric doesn't seem to be anything new.
Last year, in July, Abboud became a target of anti-Muslim fervor on social media to a degree that even elicited concern and support from her Republican opponent, Sen. Jeff Flake. On Twitter, Flake said, "Hang in there, @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across Arizona. You'll find them."
The post that seemed to spark the racist rhetoric was this innocuous Facebook entry from Abboud about America: "Almost 250 years ago a group of dreamers came together and sketched out a revolutionary vision. No longer would they be shackled to the whims of a distant government, nor bound to the religion of an idiosyncratic king."
"They set out to forge their own futures, determine their own destinies, and follow their own faith. In their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers decreed that this nation would separate church and state, and in doing so protect both institutions," she said. "Government would be free from religious overreach, and religion would be free from government interference."
In response to her post, according to USA Today, commenters mocked Abboud's religion, told her to go back to "litter box your 'people' come from," and called her a "towel headed piece of s**t."
Refusing to let her detractors bruise her spirit, Abboud responded to Flake's supportive tweet, "Thank you @JeffFlake for leadership in rejecting behavior that doesn't reflect our American values. AZ's amazing people deserve more of this."
In other instances of backlash, Michigan's Democrat gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed has endured baseless theories, peddled by conservatives, about his non-existent ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Republicans and Democrats have slammed the rumors as "conspiracy theories," according to AP.
Islamophobia notwithstanding, Muslim candidates seem to be pushing hard to be seen, heard, and, now, voted for. Figures, like Ilhan Omar and Jamal Abdulahi, are changing up things as far Muslim political representation goes in Minnesota. In Michigan, candidates like Fayrouz Saad and Rep. Rashida Tlaib may have a better chance of winning seats given the sizable population of Arab Americans in the state.
Given certain instances of backlash, it seems like the candidates are ready to address it head-on. "I’m a strong believer that we have to face this rhetoric," Abboud said. "We can’t ignore it or pretend like it’s a fringe element anymore. We have to let the ugly face show so that we can decide if that is us."