One of the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress, Ilhan Omar started her acceptance speech with a universal Islamic greeting in Minnesota on Tuesday night.
‘As-salaam aleikum,’ she said to a room full of supporters during a victory party held in Minneapolis. What the Islamic phrase means is “Peace be upon you.”
The crowd immediately responded by saying “Wa aleikum salaam,” which when translated means “and upon you peace be.”
After the exchange of greetings, Ilhan Omar decided to show how grateful she was to God by saying the words “Alhamdulillah” three times. This phrase means “all praise to God”. The room became filled with cheers from her supporters immediately they heard it.
Omar is a devout Muslim who is usually garbed in the hijab meaning the US Congress will have its first hijab-wearing member, its first refugee and also its first Somali-American member.
Hearing the universal Islamic phrases that Ilhan Omar used in her speech was a very strong moment for a large number of American Muslims all the more so as there was an onslaught of Islamophobic attacks targeted at the Muslim candidates that ran during the elections.
Margari Hill, the managing director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, said it felt relatable, affirming and authentic to hear Omar using the Islamic phrases during her acceptance speech.
The exchange of blessings as a form of greeting for Muslims has its root in the Quran the Holy book of Islam. Jewish people also practice this form of greeting using the term “shalom Aleichem” and “Aleichem shalom” as response.
Even Christian politicians use religious terms such as “all glory be to God” or “praise God” to show their gratitude.
According to Hill, using the term “Alhamdulillah” shows a Muslim is humble. The phrase surprisingly is now a part of black American vernacular due to the influence of Islam on hip hop music.
Hoda Hawa who is the director of the policy and advocacy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council has said that the election of Omar makes it possible for a wide range of American communities to have representation in the Congress. She also said her victory serves as an encouragement for young American Muslims who may someday wish to run for political offices.
Slate reporter Aymann Ismail wrote that Ilhan Omar’s presence in the Congress will serve as a reminder to other Congress men and women that all American Muslims are truly American as well.