U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar to headline CAIR-WA Ramadan fundraiser

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaking at a worker protest against Amazon in Shakopee, Minnesota on Dec. 14, 2018. (Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaking at a worker protest against Amazon in Shakopee, Minnesota on Dec. 14, 2018. (Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr)

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is set to headline a fundraiser May 25 hosted by the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center.

Omar will be on a panel titled “Unapologetically US — Building Muslim Power for 2020 & Beyond.” She will be accompanied by Democratic Pennsylvania state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, the first Muslim member of her state’s House of Representatives, the University of Washington’s Dr. Anisa Ibrahim, who focuses on caring for immigrant and refugee populations in East Africa, and CAIR-WA’s Executive Director Masih Fouladi.

The event, which raises funds for CAIR-WA, comes during the month of Ramadan, a time for reflection and community among Muslims, and as an intensely-watched national election season ramps up.

Omar is a “hero for many of us, not only Muslims,” said Sarah Stuteville, media and outreach director for CAIR-WA.

Omar is a refugee who was the first Somali-American elected to Congress and one of two American Muslim women elected to the body in 2018.

Stuteville said CAIR-WA hopes Omar can inspire local Muslims to take a greater role in the political process.

“Of course, it’s also about kind of building political power and engagement in the Muslim community as we head into the 2020 elections,” Stuteville said. “Our hope is that this will also be kind of like a inspirational event and a kind of catalyst for a lot of Muslims in Washington state to start thinking about how to kind of like build power and get more involved.” (Stuteville is a co-founder of The Seattle Globalist)

More than 40,000 Washingtonians were born in Eastern Africa, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization seeking to improve immigration and integration policies.

Omar, elected as a member of the 2018 Democratic class, has already earned a high national profile in just a few months in Congress. Before being elected to Congress to represent the district that represents Minneapolis and its suburbs, the 37-year-old was elected to the Minnesota state legislature in 2016. She is now whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Since being thrust onto the national stage, Omar has received a multitude of death threats, with a surge following a video posted to Twitter by President Donald Trump in April that attacked Omar for the way she referred to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at a banquet for CAIR’s California chapter.

Trump’s video pulled quotes out of a video made by CAIR-CA, where Omar had said the organization “was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

“For far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar said in the video. She added: “So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that, ‘This person is looking at me strange. I am not comfortable with it, and I am going to talk to them and ask them why.’ Because that is the right you have.”

While Omar has not addressed Trump’s attack directly, others defended her, including U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) who told CNN that Trump took her words out of context.

“And she just said that, after [9/11] happened, it was used as an excuse for lots of discrimination and for withdrawal of civil liberties,” Nadler said.

Stuteville says CAIR-WA is taking security “seriously” and they are working with Omar’s office to make it a “safe event for everyone” as the congresswoman makes her first visit to the state since being elected in November.

Between 400 and 500 people have RSVP’d for the event so far, according to Stuteville, who expects a sold-out crowd of about 800.

“I just love to see this community and just communities throughout Washington getting so excited about the political process and about increased representation in politics in this country,” Stuteville said.

The event, which will be from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, in Bellevue, costs $30 for a single ticket, with $25 childcare required for children under 8. Attendees can purchase a ticket that includes a private Iftar with Omar for $100.