The New York Times: She Doubted Her Place in America. Now She’s Virginia’s First Muslim State Senator.
By Sarah Mervosh
Ghazala Hashmi was on her way to work one winter morning in 2017 when she heard news on the radio that left her in a panic: President Trump’s order banning refugees from certain Muslim countries was making headlines, and she was concerned about the possibility of a Muslim registry being created in the United States.
Ms. Hashmi, who came from India to the United States at the age of 4, pulled up to the community college where she worked, parked her minivan and felt frozen with fear. As a Muslim who had lived in the United States nearly all her life, she wondered, did she still have a place in the country she called home?
She shed those doubts on Tuesday when she became the first Muslim to be elected to the Virginia State Senate, a milestone that comes amid a wave of Muslims running for elected office across the country and increased visibility for Muslim women in politics.
Ms. Hashmi, 55, upset the Republican incumbent to represent a district based in Chesterfield County, which includes suburban Richmond. Her victory helped to flip the Senate on a night that Democrats took control of both chambers and consolidated power across state government for the first time in a generation.
A former literature professor and community college administrator, Ms. Hashmi campaigned on issues that included improving education, taking action on gun control and expanding access to health care. In addition to becoming the first Muslim in the State Senate, she will be the first Muslim woman to serve in the Virginia General Assembly, according to her campaign. At least two Muslim men serve in the House.
“Muslims in America are just like any other American,” Ms. Hashmi said in an interview on Wednesday. “I have been a troop leader for Girl Scouts. I have been active in my daughters’ school and volunteer work. All the things that another suburban mom might be doing, I’ve been doing.”
Since 2016, more than 300 Muslim candidates, including more than 100 women, have run for elected office nationwide, according to a report tracking political involvement by Muslims.
Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first Muslim women elected to Congress last year. And many others have run in smaller races across the country, such as Abrar E. Omeish, 24, who won a seat Tuesday on the Fairfax County School Board. She was among at least three Muslim women in Virginia who clinched down-ballot contests on Tuesday, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which tracks Muslim candidates for public office.
Mohammed Missouri, the executive director of Jetpac, which advocates Muslim political engagement, said the surge in Muslim candidates running for office in recent years has been among the largest since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. In part, he said, it is a direct response to open expressions of Islamophobia in the United States, including White House policies that critics see as anti-Muslim.
He said he had heard a common refrain from first-time candidates: “I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”
Similarly, after panicking in her minivan in 2017, Ms. Hashmi realized that she had two options: “I could continue to be quiet and accept things,” she said. “Or I really had to become much more visible.”
At a victory party on Tuesday night, supporters cheered and chanted her name. She smiled and addressed the crowd: “You’ve proven,” she said, “that Ghazala is truly an American name.”