November 5, 2019
First Muslim woman elected to Virginia Senate
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Ghazala Hashmi on Tuesday (Nov. 5) became the first Muslim women elected to the Virginia Senate. Ghazala Hashmi, 55, upset the Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant to represent a district based in Chesterfield County.
With all 70 precincts reporting, Hashmi won 43,806 votes, while Sturtevant had 36,811 votes. Sturtevant narrowly won in 2015 against his Democratic opponent.
Her victory helped to flip the Senate Tuesday night as 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, Ghazala Hashmi campaigned on issues that included improving education, taking action on gun control and expanding access to health care.
“Muslims in America are just like any other American,” Ms. Hashmi said in an interview with the New York Times 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.”
Ghazala Hashmi immigrated to the U.S. as a child and has worked in Virginia higher education for 25 years. She's currently the founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Reynolds Community College. In a statement released after the win, Hashmi thanked voters regardless of party affiliation and promised to work with Democrats on addressing climate change, gun violence, health care and public education.
"This victory, is not mine alone," reads the statement. "It belongs to all of you who believed that we needed to make progressive change here in Virginia, for all of you who felt that you haven't had a voice and believed in me to be yours in the General Assembly."
“I decided to run for the State Senate because in 400 years of the General Assembly — the oldest legislative body in America — Virginians have never elected a Muslim woman to office,” Hashmi wrote earlier. “I decided to run for the State Senate because if marginalized communities like mine don’t stand up for ourselves, we can’t expect others to do it for us.”
At least two Muslim men serve in the House. Other Muslim state legislators are men — Ibraheem Samirah and Sam Rasoul serve in the Virginia House of Delegates
According to Huffington Post four Muslim candidates were elected Tuesday: (1) Ghazala Hashmi - State Legislature, VA; (2) Abrar Omeish - Fairfax County School Board, VA; (3) Safiya Khalid - first Somali American elected, Lewiston City Council, Maine; (4) Nadia Mohamed - the first Muslim & Somali. St. Louis Park City Council, MN.
Besides Ghazala Hashmi, Abrar Omeish, 24, is the youngest elected official in the state by winning an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia.
Omeish will join the 12-member school board in Fairfax County, the state's most populous jurisdiction. With all 244 precincts reporting, she received 161,097 votes—the second most among at-large candidates. According to unofficial results, the other winners were Karen Keys-Gamarra and Rachna Sizemore Heizer. The school board is tasked with passing a budget each fiscal year and setting school policies.
Omeish said in a statement her campaign strived to "elevate young voices and those of underserved and underrepresented communities."
A graduate of Fairfax County Public Schools, she has published policy briefs on budgeting, staff pay, mental health and other priorities on her campaign website. She told Patch in a previous interview some of her focuses are universal Pre-K and more resources for students, including for mental health.
Her team helped register 1,500 new voters over the course of the campaign.
"This campaign represents a local movement to set a new standard of public service-- to provide accessible and inclusive leadership that elevates and empowers all people to participate," she said in a statement. "Education is the starting point for all members of our community to access opportunity to meet their potential and we must fight to ensure that every child can succeed here."
Omeish has been open in the past about the discrimination she’s faced and the challenges she’s had to overcome as a Muslim woman striving for elected office.
Speaking to HuffPost in May in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s public attacks on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Omeish said she hadn’t anticipated the baseless “ignorance and animosity” she’d come up against.
“I underestimated how much diversity and being a minority for me has shaped how I think about others. So it surprised me to see how shameless people can be in how they behave or express themselves against me,” she said.
Earlier this year, Omeish made headlines after she was allegedly pepper-sprayed and forced to remove her headscarf during a routine traffic stop.
She told The Washington Post in June that she had committed a traffic violation ― turning right on a red light ― but said the officer used unnecessary force.
“It makes no logical sense to me that, within three minutes, an officer would have to pull mace and that it would escalate and devolve into everything it was that night, over a minor traffic violation,” she said.
A Fairfax County police spokeswoman told the Post that the Omeish “actively resisted arrest.”
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Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali