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Rashida Tlaib is one of the first Muslim-American women elected to Congress

She made history on Tuesday.

Rashida Tlaib smiles during a rally in Dearborn, Mich.
Rashida Tlaib smiles during a rally in Dearborn, Mich.
Paul Sancya/AP
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Former Michigan state Rep. Rashida Tlaib has become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, after winning her race for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District on Tuesday.

Tlaib is one of two Muslim women who were considered extremely likely to win the general election; the other is Ilhan Omar, a Muslim-American woman running in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.

Michigan’s 13th District, which includes part of Detroit and suburbs near the city, was previously held by former Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat who resigned earlier this year in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. Since there were no Republican candidates vying for the seat, Tlaib ran unopposed and easily won the general election in the heavily Democratic district.

Tlaib’s election to the House is a groundbreaking milestone for Congress, which currently has just two lawmakers who identify as Muslim, according to a Pew Research Center report. According to Pew, the proportion of Congress that identifies as Christian (more than 90 percent) hasn’t changed much since the 1960s, although there is more religious diversity on the Democratic side. As a point of comparison, only 0.4 percent of Congress is Muslim, while 1.1 percent of Americans are.

“It’s not about just being out there and flaunting your faith,” Tlaib said in a CNN interview. “I always tell people that I’m exposing Islam in such a pivotal way, an impactful way, through public service.”

Tlaib, who was the first Muslim woman to be elected to the Michigan state legislature, is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and a Detroit native, according to her campaign website. She’s part of a wave of about 100 Muslim Americans who filed to run for Congress this year, a surge that one study has tied to pushback against rising Islamophobia during the Trump administration.

Tlaib is also one of many women who dominated Democratic primaries in Michigan. Tlaib secured the nomination in the 13th District with more than 33 percent of the vote, very narrowly edging out Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and Conyers’s great nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers.

Much like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib captured her primary by running an unabashedly progressive campaign to the left of the competition, and she picked up much of her fundraising from a strong grassroots campaign. “I’m going to be a woman, a mom, a Muslimah, a Palestinian, an Arab and so many of these other layers of these identities depending on who I’m talking to and what they want to identify me as,” Tlaib told CNN.

As Jezebel points out, Tlaib has been championing progressive policies — including criticizing Immigration and Customs Enforcement — long before they got the widespread attention they’ve received this year. It’s likely she’ll continue to be a vocal proponent of these viewpoints once she’s officially sworn in as member of the House.

While Congress has become more diverse in recent years, the body’s makeup includes only 20 percent women and 19 percent people of color. Tlaib’s victory is among the historic wins that are contributing to shifting this dynamic.