Over the last three years, American politics have been shaped by a White House that has made a habit and sport of attacking Muslims in the U.S. and abroad with hateful rhetoric and policies. But that same time period has begotten another important political development: there have never been more Muslim representatives serving in the U.S. Congress than there are now.
These simultaneous realities have colored much of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s time in office. The Democrat from Minnesota—and the first Muslim woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—has spent much of this year in the spotlight. While she’s been revered by many progressive Americans for her courage in challenging power and speaking out on behalf of black women and Muslims, many on the right—including the White House’s resident tangerine troll—have vilified her, depicting her as un-American and even, inflammatorily, a “terrorist” because of her identity.
But on Monday, Omar and her other Muslim House colleagues, representatives André Carson (D-Ind.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were able to control the narrative about their faith, co-hosting a historic iftar—the first co-hosted by two Muslim women members of Congress.
Iftar is the nightly feast marking the end of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. As the Washington Post writes, Omar’s long days on the hill often keep her from having a full iftar meal on most days, opting instead for quick bites before heading to committee meetings or votes on the House floor. And during the day, all three Muslim congressional reps go without water and coffee—the lifeblood of the Capitol. Monday’s celebration, then, was a welcome break for the representatives to be among the Muslim American community to dig into naan, kebabs and dates, talk about their faith, and of course, talk a little bit of politics, too.
“It was a reminder that we are a nation founded on religious liberty, where people seeking opportunity and a better life can find it, regardless of their faith,” Omar told the gathering of 150, as NPR reports.
Tlaib echoed that sentiment in a prepared statement, saying the celebration “lifts an entire community that has felt unseen for far too long.”
“We have been unjustly targeted to ignite fear and promote an agenda of hate. Tonight, we recommit to being rooted in justice, inclusivity and a sense of belonging,” Tlaib said.
Both Tlaib and Omar have been frequent targets of the right since taking office, and even when their faith isn’t made explicit in the attacks on them, it’s frequently the subtext.
But the attacks on Omar have been more urgent and disturbing in tenor—the motives impossible to untangle from Omar’s wearing of the hijab and her identity as a black woman. As Esther Wang noted for Jezebel, just last month, a New York man was arrested for threatening Omar:
“Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she’s a (expletive) terrorist. I’ll put a bullet in her (expletive) skull.” He later told authorities that he’s a Trump supporter and that he “hates radical Muslims in our government.”
Monday’s event provided a stark contrast to the iftar celebration held last week by the White House, which—funny enough—neither Carson nor Omar was invited to, their spokespeople told the Huffington Post.
According to multiple reports, American Muslims weren’t present at Trump’s iftar (the White House didn’t extend invites to major American Muslim organizations, though some shared they weren’t likely to attend anyway). An annual tradition since 1996, Trump canceled the White House iftar celebration his first year in office. The event was resurrected last year, but now comprises mostly Muslim foreign dignitaries and diplomats, HuffPost reports.
Executive Director of Muslim Advocates Farhana Khera told the site it was important to have an event for American Muslims, in part so they weren’t always presented as strictly “foreign or other.”
“This president, unfortunately, his track record is to try to essentially cozy up to foreign Muslim leaders that he thinks are going to do his bidding in surface interest and, on the flip side, just demonize and marginalize the American Muslim community,” Khera told HuffPost.
Among those in attendance at Monday’s congressional iftar was Khizr Khan, the Pakistani American father of a slain U.S. Army captain who publicly butted heads with Trump over his anti-Muslim rhetoric during the presidential campaign. Trump mocked Khan’s wife for not speaking when Khan delivered an emotional speech at the 2016 Democratic presidential convention, because “she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.”
Omar, upon seeing Khan in the audience, pointed the Gold Star father out. She reminded the crowd of Trump’s insulting, inaccurate remarks.
“Little did they know they were going to get the two loudest Muslim women in the country in Congress!” Omar said as cheers erupted from the crowd.
Correction: Wednesday, May 22 at 1:21 pm ET: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Monday’s iftar was the first to be hosted by members of Congress. Muslim and non-Muslim members of Congress have hosted iftar celebrations in the past, both on Capitol Hill and off. The Root regrets the error.