Ilhan Omar (photo: Wikipedia)

History books continue to be rewritten at the US Congress following the unprecedented move by Ilhan Omar to wear a hijab during her swearing-in to the American House of Representatives. In the process, a 181 year ban on religious head covering at the US legislative chamber was defeated.

Omar, a former child refugee in Kenya who became one of two Muslim women to make history by getting elected to Congress during the US mid-term elections in November 2018, was sworn in on January 3 wearing a hijab and holding a Quran.

The US Congress had to lift a 181 year ban on head wear in the chamber so as to accommodate Omar, who had tweeted last year that “No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It’s my choice—one protected by the first amendment.”

A former child refugee at the Dadaab Camp in North Eastern Kenya, Omar is the first Somali American in Congress, a representative of Minnesotta.

The 36 year old fled Somalia with her family when she was eight years old and after settling at Daadab refugee camp and later Mombasa, she emigrated to the US with her family two decades ago.

“23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress,” Omar tweeted.


During her swearing-in, Omar used a Quran that belonged to her grandfather, whom the Minnessotta Rep. paid tribute to and credited for having inspired her journey into politics.

“As a kid, I acted as my grandfather’s translator at our caucuses and he was the one who first sparked my interest in politics. I wish he could be here to witness this historic moment, but he was here in spirit as I placed my hand on his Quran for the ceremonial swearing in,” she posted on Twitter.

Along with Omar, Rashida Tlaib who is the other Muslim Congresswoman also broke traditional barriers by being sworn in while wearing a Palestinian gown stitched by her mother.

A daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Tlaib was also sworn in using a Quran, this time a 1734 translation that belonged to the third US President and one of the authors of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

Tlaib tweeted, “This really happened. I am U.S. Congresswoman. Not bad for a girl from southwest Detroit who didn’t speak English, daughter of Palestinian immigrants.”

A strong critic of US President Donald Trump, Tlaib was arrested two years ago for disrupting a Trump speech. She is a Michigan Rep. in the lower house of the US legislative chamber.


Omar and Tlaib are both members of the Democrat Party which reclaimed control of the House of Representatives during the November 6, 2018 US mid-term elections.

In the process, they helped propel what, according to CNN  ‘no other Congress has ever looked like this’, by being the ‘the youngest and most racially diverse in history’, as per The Guardian.

Apart from two Muslim women, the US Congress also has a record number of Congresswomen, the first two native-Americans, the two youngest women ever elected, a North Korean American, among many other records.

The Senate, which is the upper house of the US Congress, is still controlled by the Republican Party. According to international media reports, Republican representatives in Congress are still predominantly white males.

At the same time, the control of the lower house by Democrats allowed Nancy Pelosi to return as house speaker, placing her once more as one of the most powerful women in US politics. Pelosi had previously been speaker during the end of the George W Bush administration and throughout the reign of Barrack Obama.




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