A record number of Muslims won offices in the US midterms

TOn November 8, Dr. Mehmet Oz almost became the first Muslim US senator. The Republican TV doctor-turned-politician – who wasn’t exactly popular among a broad swath of Muslim Americans—would have been controversial first for the community. But to Oz losing to Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania mask an otherwise record-breaking election for the community of at least 3.45 million people.

American Muslims had won at least 83 seats in local, state and federal midterm elections as of Thursday morning, according to an analysis by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights and advocacy group, and Jetpac, a nonprofit organization in increasing Muslim political representation in USA Almost 150 Muslim Americans ran for office this year, including 51 candidates for state legislatures in 23 states.

This year’s wins surpassed the previous record of 71 reported by CAIR and Jetpac in 2020; they have been tracking this data for the past six years.

Beyond these figures, several Muslims became the first representatives of their communities to enter state houses. Illinois had its own the first Muslim Americans elected to the general assembly: Nabeela Syed, 23, and Abdelnasser Rashid, 33, won seats in parliament. Salman Bhojani and Suleman Lalani got up the first Muslims elected to the Texas Legislature. In Georgia, Palestinian American Ruwa Roman became the first Muslim woman elected to the House of States. Total Georgia chose four Muslim Americans to the office.

Read more: These 2022 candidates have made history

Nabila Islam, a Muslim American from Bangladesh, ran for (and lost). competitive Georgia Senate seat in 2020. But in this week’s midterm elections, she became the first Muslim and South Asian woman elected to the Georgia Senate. “I decided not to give up,” says Islam. “I still wanted to make a difference in my community at the state levels; there are many things we need to work on, including access to Medicaid and protection of abortion rights.”

The victories of Muslim Americans like Islam help outline a road map to greater federal representation.

“Today’s state legislator is tomorrow’s member of Congress,” says Mohammed Missouri, Jetpac CEO. “It’s definitely a pipeline.” He points out that Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Keith Ellison served in their state legislatures before winning seats in Congress. “They didn’t come from nowhere … they spent years building trust in the community … and then when they decided to run for Congress, people knew who they were.”

Today, most Muslims skew heavily democrat— especially since many Republicans have supported policies that harm the Muslim community, including wide-ranging surveillance and religious profiling programs. All four Democrats elected to Congress so far have been Democrats, even as some are Muslim have also felt distrust of the party.

This political bias is reflected in the Muslims who ran for office this year. Many state legislators who won midterm elections identify as progressive Democrats, says Missouri.

And these state legislators can have a huge impact on local communities. “We actually have to shape the budget — billions of dollars for our state — and make it better for our community,” said Zainab Muhammad, 25, who made history Tuesday after being elected to the Minnesota Senate. The Somali American was one of three black women elected to the Minnesota State Senate for the first time, as well as the youngest woman and Muslim.

“I just often think about the fact that people are like, ‘Hey, wait your turn,’ or ‘You’re too young, you’re too black, you’re a visible Muslim who wears a hijab. You will really walk these corridors, these people will never know. I’m like, no, they won’t, but they definitely will when I go there,” says Mohammed.

Robert McCaw, director of government affairs at CAIR, points out that the Muslim American community is among the largest in the country different religious communities. “Muslims are rarely just Muslims. They are also Arab, African American, South Asian or other ethnic with their own unique experiences to add to the policymaking process.

Read more: Why does it take so long to call close races. Here are the latest updates on the midterm election results

Jetpac’s Missouri notes that some Americans have the misconception that Muslim candidates are only interested in foreign policy. “Part of the trope is that we are something else, we’re not Americans,” he says. Missouri adds that Muslims “care deeply about specific issues” for the community, but also “in terms of justice for all people.”

This focus on local issues was key for Muslim candidates to win the trust of their constituencies in this election. But that doesn’t mean many ignore issues that specifically affect Muslims.

Roman, the Palestinian-American Muslim who was elected to the Georgia Legislature, says that while she cares about equitable health care and school funding, she also strives to advocate for issues specifically affecting the Muslim community. “We do not want thinly veiled anti-Muslim laws known as anti-Sharia laws; targeting the Muslim community for increased surveillance is unacceptable; working with anti-Muslim think tanks that are fueled by dark money is unacceptable,” says Roman.

“To be able to say that not only as an advocate, but now as a member of the Georgia General Assembly, is going to be powerful and tells … people like me that you have a place here and that this election process will and can include you “, adds Roman.

More election coverage from TIME

Write to Sanya Mansoor c [email protected].

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