ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Somali-American woman who identifies as a Muslim recently took her oath of office on the Koran instead of the Bible.
Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in November, beating her Republican opponent, Abdimalik Askar, by 61 percent. Her election marked the first female Somali-American selected to serve as a legislator.
“We will never stop fighting for a democracy that works for all of us—for a prosperous and equitable Minnesota that we can all be proud of,” Omar, 34, declared in her victory speech. “I will never give up fighting for you, and I hope you never give up fighting for me.”
On Jan. 3, she took the oath of office at the Minnesota State Capitol building with her hand placed on a large, commemorative copy of the Koran.
“Congratulations. Welcome to the House of Representatives,” she was greeted following the oath, as a number of her supporters who were present stood to their feet and cheered.
“I think it says a lot about the ethos of America,” Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota told Voice of America. “That [constituents] can embrace a Somali-American, hijab-clad Muslim woman as their representative, as the most qualified person to speak for them in the state capitol.”
According to reports, Omar moved to America when she was 12 after spending four years in an African refugee camp due to the ravages of the Somali Civil War.
“The war started when I was 8,” she told the Siasat Daily. “One night, militia tried to break into our home, and the exterior was riddled with bullets. My family left our neighborhood, passing through dead bodies and debris.”
“I no longer had a bed of my own, the privacy of a shower in my own bathroom—we were essentially homeless,” Omar recalled. “I would fetch water, and my family would reward me with a shilling at the end of the day, so I would go see a movie in the village next door in a makeshift theater: a hut.”
She says that her election makes a statement of countering “bigotry” in the nation.
“My election win offers a counter-narrative to the bigotry in the world,” she remarked. “This is a land of immigrants, and most come here for opportunity, a second chance. It’s our time to fight for the America we know we can have.”
While being the first female Somali-American elected to American government, she is not the first lawmaker to take the oath of office on a book other than the Bible. Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, also of Minnesota, reportedly used Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran during his individual ceremonial oath in 2007.
As previously reported, in 2012, Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii took her oath on the Bhagavad Gita. Gabbard, a Hindu, follows the Vaishnavism sect of the religion, which believes in a supreme being named Vishnu and his “10 incarnations.”