It’s 2016 — We’re at the height of the digital revolution, World War III is no longer just a thought reserved for dystopian young adult novels, and a hip/hop musical about immigrant and orphan Alexander Hamilton is the best show on Broadway.
Politically, it’s been one of the most bizarre and tense election seasons in American history — and it’s only July. In the past few months, we’ve had to choose between a non-Christian, a woman, and a Latino who also happened to be accused of being the “Zodiac Killer” half-way through his campaign. And then of course, there’s Donald Trump. Yes, 2016 could be the year a cartoon character becomes president of the United States.
While these four candidates were the dominant faces of the primary elections, this political season has also been historic for Muslims. Islam has been a tense (to say the least) topic in the U.S. since 9/11. However, the world as a whole has been forced to acknowledge Islam with a different lens since the emergence of the terrorist group ISIS. This acknowledgment has come in different forms: some hostile and others with tolerance.
The more we focus on Islam, the more we focus on the people who follow it, especially the most obvious of them, veiled Muslim women. What’s different about the U.S. is that the largest generation of first born Muslim-Americans is all grown up.
As adults, these Muslims Americans are an integral part of American society. Just like their peers, they’re trying to find a place for themselves in a chaotic social and political climate. They dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians, actors, journalists, and professional athletes, and many of them have achieved these dreams.
If they play a role in so many different areas of American life, they’re a part of the American melting pot. However, unlike previous races, cultures, and religions, Islam is finding a place at the height of the digital age. The thing about the digital age is everyone is seen and heard; not all are acknowledged, not all are treated equally, but everyone knows they exist.
The simultaneous rise of both Muslim-Americans, social media, and terrorism in the name of Islam is a turning point for not only the U.S., but for the world as a whole.
Muslims have a role in American life, just like everyone else in the U.S.’s giant conflation, and political elections are no exception. Hijabis are the biggest example of this — they are a visual representation of Islam.
Elections are all about what we see. It’s why Kennedy beat Nixon once debates became televised. It’s also the reason media networks are always under scrutiny for the time they allot for candidates.
So, why are people being forced to include Muslim women in their ideas of typical America? Because Muslim women are not only letting themselves be heard, but be seen as well.
Throughout the election season, they have made the news for various reasons that play big roles in the democratic process. They are the face of Islam and the future of America. As if this year hasn’t been historic enough — this is the year we elected Muslim women into the American election process. Who are they?
Here are just a few:
1. Remaz Abdelgader
My first memory of hijabi representation during this election is of Remaz Abdelgader. In October, Sen. Bernie Sanders held a Q&A session during a rally at George Mason University. He received a question about the Republican rhetoric from a student, Remaz Abdelgader, in which she asked:
“As an American Muslim student who inspires to change the world, hearing the rhetoric that is going on in the media makes me sick. Because I, as an individual, I’m constantly trying to raise awareness and make sure that everyone is treated equally in this country. To the next President of the United States, what do you think about that?”
Sen. Sanders then led her onstage and hugged her before providing this response — “Let me be very personal here if I may. I’m Jewish. My father’s family died in concentration camps,” Sanders said. “I will do everything that I can to rid this country of the ugly stain of racism that has existed for far too many years.”
Her appearance not only brought hijabi women into the spotlight, but also connected Jews and Muslims in a way that hadn’t really been shown during elections before. Ms. Abdelgader changed the game for Muslim women and Muslim representation this election year.
2. Rose Hamid
On Jan. 8, Rose Hamid attended a Donald Trump rally and stood in silent protest. She, along with others were ushered out by both security and Trump supporters. Immediately afterwards, Mrs. Hamid was interviewed by CNN, and her spotlight took Twitter by storm. Her bright blue shirt and “Go Yellow Against Hate” star, designed by fellow protestor Marty Rosenbluth, left a lasting imprint on the American people.
3. Saba Ahmed
As mentioned above, what we see leaves a mark on us. Perhaps, no one achieves this better than Saba Ahmed.
On Nov. 18, Saba Ahmed, founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, wore a star-spangled banner hijab for her appearance on The Kelly File. At first, I admit, I laughed.
Then, I laughed again when I saw that she was a Republican. “What, why, how?” I ignorantly sputtered. So I may not agree with her political party, but her appearance did teach me something I never realized. Not all Muslims are going to have the same views I do.
I don’t think I consciously understood that until I saw a Republican veiled Muslim woman on television, and that is exactly what representation has done in the 2016 election — made even me stop lumping all veiled women into one, narrow category.
4. Linda Sarsour
Perhaps the most famous and politically involved of the veiled Muslim women on this list is civil rights activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, based in her hometown Brooklyn, Linda Sarsour.
Sarsour became a public face when she helped get city officials to make Eid Al-Adha and Eid Al-Fitr, two major Islamic holidays, part of the N.Y. public-school calendar. As a result, schools close on the days in observance.
This year, she began part of Bernie Sanders’ team, joining him in rallies across the nation and speaking to crowds. She made a name for herself throughout the primary election season and became a large voice for Muslim Americans on and off social media. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ran for office herself in the near future.
Yes, the world isn’t that willing to accept Muslims into its communities right now. However, whether people realize it or not, veiled Muslim women have found their way right into the core of American politics. Elections are at their core, sources of entertainment, and in 2016, Muslims are ratings, and we don’t plan on getting canceled anytime soon.
Contributed by Walaa Chahine