Muslim Women Make History In Virginia Elections

Democrats Ghazala Hashmi, Abrar Omeish, Lisa Zargarpur and Buta Biberaj ― four Muslim women ― made history in Virginia’s elections on Tuesday. 

In a surprise victory, Hashmi unseated incumbent Republican Glen Sturtevant for a state Senate seat; Omeish clinched one of three vacant seats on the Fairfax County School Board; Zargarpur was elected to the Prince William County School Board; and Biberaj, in a tight race, defeated Republican incumbent Nicole Wittmann to become Loudoun County’s new commonwealth’s attorney.

Hashmi is the first Muslim to be elected to the state Senate, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. (Two Muslim men ― Democrats Ibraheem Samirah and Sam Rasoul ― currently serve in Virginia’s General Assembly.) 

Celebrating her win, Omeish said she was the youngest woman at age 24 and the first Libyan American to hold elected office in Virginia’s history. She also made claim to being the first Muslim woman to be elected in the state ― an honor she would share with Hashmi, Zargarpur and Biberaj.

All four were supported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The women’s victories were part of the blue wave that swept Virginia on Tuesday. Democrats successfully flipped both houses of the state legislature. The election has been described as a possible “watershed” moment for the once-conservative Southern state.

“Today we sent a message that the status quo is no longer accepted,” a victorious Hashmi wrote on Twitter. 

Omeish, Karen Keys-Gamarra and Rachna Sizemore Heizer ― all Democrats ― won the three open seats on the Fairfax County School Board. 

“Abrar’s campaign worked hard to elevate young voices and those of underserved and underrepresented communities, proactively reaching out to constituencies who have otherwise not been engaged by registering 1,500 new voters and training hundreds of new volunteers,” Omeish’s campaign said in a statement celebrating her winning an at-large seat.

“She strives towards facilitating a school system that believes fully in the potential of the leader in every child and believes that the investment in that child is worthwhile no matter their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration status,” the campaign continued.

Zargarpur, who converted to Islam more than two decades ago and whose family has long advocated for the Muslim community in Prince William County, clinched the Coles District seat on the county’s school board. 

In Loudoun Couty, Biberaj, who won by a margin of 51% to 48%, was elected commonwealth’s attorney, making her the county’s top prosecutor.

Omeish has talked in the past about the discrimination she’s faced and the challenges she’s had to overcome as a Muslim woman striving for elected office.

Speaking to HuffPost in May in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s public attacks on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Omeish said she hadn’t anticipated the baseless “ignorance and animosity” she’d come up against.

“I underestimated how much diversity and being a minority for me has shaped how I think about others. So it surprised me to see how shameless people can be in how they behave or express themselves against me,” she said.

Earlier this year, Omeish made headlines after she was allegedly pepper-sprayed and forced to remove her headscarf during a routine traffic stop. 

She told The Washington Post in June that she had committed a traffic violation ― turning right on a red light ― but said the officer used unnecessary force.

“It makes no logical sense to me that, within three minutes, an officer would have to pull mace and that it would escalate and devolve into everything it was that night, over a minor traffic violation,” she said. 

A Fairfax County police spokeswoman told the Post that Omeish “actively resisted arrest.” 

In an April blog post on Medium, Hashmi described her terror as she watched the Trump administration roll out its anti-Muslim immigration agenda ― and how that fueled her desire to run for office.

“What triggered my panic was not so much the deliberate and callous way the administration sought to criminalize people and communities on the basis of their faith, but rather the casual ease with which we were now willing to accept — as legitimate legal action — this assault on our democratic values. And I had to wonder: do I, a Muslim American who has lived in this country for close to 50 years, have a home in this country any longer?” she wrote.

“I decided to run for the State Senate because in 400 years of the General Assembly — the oldest legislative body in America — Virginians have never elected a Muslim woman to office,” Hashmi continued. “I decided to run for the State Senate because if marginalized communities like mine don’t stand up for ourselves, we can’t expect others to do it for us.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Safiya Khalid became the first Somali American to be elected to the Lewiston City Council in Maine, and Nadia Mohamed became the first Muslim and Somali American to be elected to the St. Louis Park City Council in Minnesota. 

This story was updated to include the electoral wins of Lisa Zargarpur and Buta Biberaj.

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