The first two Muslim American women in Congress have been unapologetic about their faith from the start of their campaigns. Thursday’s swearing-in to the US House of Representatives was no different.
Rashida Tlaib, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, was sworn in with her left hand on her own copy of the Quran, though she considered using a 1734 English translation that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And Ilhan Omar, who arrived in the US 23 years ago as a refugee fleeing Somalia’s war, used the Quran of her late grandfather, who helped raise her.
New members of Congress are not required to take their oaths on the Bible or any other religious text. In fact, they need not swear on anything at all. Tlaib and Omar used the Qurans at individual, ceremonial swearings-in at the House speaker’s office after the official, en masse swearing-in on the House floor.
Both Democrats, they are part of an extraordinarily diverse class of representatives — “transformative,” as Rep. Nancy Pelosi called them in her address after being elected House speaker Thursday. For many Muslim Americans, the presence of a Quran is a symbolic moment amid a presidential administration that has seemed to wage an all-out war on the triple whammy of what Tlaib and Omar represent: immigrants, Muslims and women.
Degha Shabbeleh, a suburban Minneapolis high school English teacher whose family was exiled from Somalia when she was a child, says it’s the first time she feels truly represented in national politics.
“To finally have women of color, or immigrants or second generation-Americans to be sworn in on a holy book other than the Bible — for me it personally validates that I do belong here, and this is home,” says Shabbeleh, who campaigned for Omar and flew to Washington, DC to attend Thursday’s swearing-in. “I personally needed that. Especially now more than ever, with all the bigotry going on and hatred that’s being exposed.”