By Nargis Rahman
Michigan lawmaker Rashida Tlaib, 32, said she could not picture herself as a state legislator if she was not Muslim.
“I truly love Islam. If I didn’t have prayer everyday and some of the teachings and beliefs, I don’t know if I would be a legislator,” Tlaib said.
Tlaib became the first American Muslim woman in Michigan state legislature, last January.
Tlaib credits her love of Southwest Detroit and encouragement from her former boss, Rep. Steve Tobocman, as factors in her decision to run for office.
Tlaib met Tobocman while working for the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services. He was working on changing legislation for undocumented children that were not able to further their education past high school.
Tlaib said it was a personal issue for her. Her friends were unable to attend college.
She joined his cause, helped knock on doors for his campaign, and became politically active.
After working for Tobocman for two months, he asked her to run in the upcoming election.
Tlaib said she laughed at first, not knowing he was serious. Tlaib said he had several friends talk her into running.
She won the November election with 90 percent of votes against Republican Darin Daigle.
Tlaib graduated with a bachelors’ degree in political science from Wayne State University in 1998, and a law degree from Thomas Cooley Law School in 2004.
Tlaib comes from a family of Palestinian parents, who did not graduate high school. She is the eldest of 14 siblings.
While growing up, her grandfather would share stories of international laws affecting immigrants, especially Palestinians.
“I grew up in the summer hearing my grandfather’s stories, wanting to do something amazing,” Tlaib said.
“I’m a very passionate person. I’ve been working on social justice issues for a while and I went to law school.”
“Majority of freshman law students say they want to change the world, and I was one of those who sincerely wanted to change the world.”
Tlaib said although she is a lawyer, she likes to be known as a normal person.
“I hate being called a politician. I so happen to be a state rep,” she said.
Tlaib said she is grateful for the opportunity to serve others.
“Alhamdulillah [praise be to God] it’s just blessings. Look at our lives, we are blessed American Muslims. It’s not just giving back to Americans, Muslims or the causes we support, it’s giving back to those who are in need,” Tlaib said.
“If I can help all those in need; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and improve their quality of life, that makes me a better Muslim.”
Tlaib has been married for twelve years, and has a 3-year-old son. She is proud to raise her child in the neighborhood where she grew up and now serves.
“I’m so happy to raise my child in a place where there’s people from all walks of life… backgrounds, and an acceptance of different nationalities,” Tlaib said.
The community is made up of approximately 40 percent Latinos, 3 percent Arab-Americans and 3 percent African-American, among others.
“The community has made me the woman I am today.”
Tlaib is working on four legislations: environmental justice, social literacy, consumer services and protection, and access to human services.
Tlaib said her life is busier since she started her job.
“Before I ran for public service, I told my family they’re going to have to share me with 95,000 other people,” she said.
Tlaib said although her job is a tremendous responsibility, she does not plan on failing.
“My accomplishments reflect all American Muslims,” she said.
Tlaib said people need to work on the ground, not just the media, to erase negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims.
“The media continuously falls into the trap – intentionally or not – to train communities into falling for the stereotypes,” she said.
Tlaib loves when people find out she’s Muslim. “They learn more about our religion.”
CAIR-MI awarded Tlaib for her services at the CAIR’s annual banquet in March.