A lot of people know me as the youngest Muslim elected official in the United States. You might have seen my interviews, my Prime documentary feature, or even seen me in the trailer of the upcoming Hulu documentary Our America: Women Forward.
However, I realized that not many people know my story.
Today, I will be taking you down memory lane. It all started with me looking to serve my community but little did I know, history was being made.
How it all started
In 2016, I worked on a republican senator’s campaign. My job was to go door to door to various registered republican voters’ homes and ask them a series of five questions. The first question was “On a scale of 1 to 10, how fearful are you of an Islamic terrorist attack on US soil?”. As the day went on, I realized that all answers to that question were eight or above. It made me want to ask the obvious follow-up question: Why?
Right there and then, I realized that to answer that, I will have to go beyond anything I’ve ever done before.
Having the talk
I remember the day I told my parents that I wanted to run for office. My father looked at me intensely and asked “Is this really what you want? Because if it is, we will support you no matter what.”.
My mom on the other hand couldn’t help but be nervous. After all, she understood what a commitment that was and she could see the determination in my eyes. As any mother would, she worried about my well-being, but deep down, she herself believed that Muslim women were extremely under-represented in the US political scene. She believed that change was needed and suspected that her very own daughter was likely to pave the way for generations to come.
The Day Everything Changed
There I was, waiting for the final results. I remember it was a Tuesday evening. I stood there, only 20 years of age, surrounded by my friends and family. I was a democratic candidate for the cook county board of commissioners in the 2018 Illinois Primary Election. After weeks of debates and multiple conversations, the results came in, and I lost to a 16-year incumbent.
What should have felt like a failure, was actually even more motivating. I knew that my political journey was not over yet and that I would have to persist even more and create opportunities for myself.
And The Journey Begins
6 months later, I announced my candidacy for District 73.5 School Board, in my hometown of Skokie, IL. Me running for office felt like the perfect thing to do while in college. After all, when else would I have a better time to represent my district, my hometown, and my community. To me, it was a form of service, you might even call it community activism. It was a way to give back to the community that has helped shape me into who I am today.
Do you know what happened afterward?
I won! I became the youngest Muslim woman to hold office in the united states.
I remember the exact day it all took place. I was surrounded by my parents, siblings, other family members, and friends. You could feel the tension in the room. We were all ready for it. We knew that this wasn’t gonna be just another election. If I win, history will be made. And little did I know, it was the beginning of what will become a life mission.
The Next Voice
Today, two years have passed since that memorable victory, and I am still dedicating my time and energy to pave the way for generations to come. I’ve also had the honor to appear in many publications and be on the cover of magazines. The one I am most proud of is the Time magazine’s Avengers cover. Being amongst a group of female history makers was the honor of a lifetime.
While some might think that being on the cover is cause for celebration, I found myself dealing with hateful emails and negative comments. I have to be honest, no matter how strong I try to be, these inevitably get to me. We all struggle with imposter syndrome at some point in our lives, and I am no exception. These negative comments and hateful emails put additional stress on me, but I know that it’s just part of the job.
How do I choose to handle it? I use it as fuel to move forward and stay focused on my mission.
This is just the beginning
My faith taught me that intention comes before everything. Being in politics and not having a political strategist or an advisor, makes it that all strategic decisions are being made by me. So I’ve been trusting my intuition every step of the way.
What has also helped me throughout the years was seeing more and more women who look like me militate for the same cause. One thing we can all agree on, no one grants us a seat at the table, we have to take it. We are all working to shape the world the way it should be, and this is just the beginning.
And there you have it! Whether you’ve seen me on the news, on social media, or have been to the same school as me, now you know my story.
All the best,