Muslim candidates running in record numbers face threats, rumors and bias

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A liberal woman of color with zero name recognition and little funding takes down a powerful, long serving congressman from her own political party.

When Tahirah Amatul-Wadud heard about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset over U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary last month, the first-time candidate saw parallels with her own longshot campaign for Congress in western Massachusetts.

The 44-year-old Muslim, African-American civil rights lawyer, who is taking on a 30-year congressman and ranking Democrat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, says she wasn’t alone, as encouragement, volunteers and donations started pouring in.

“We could barely stay on top of the residual love,” says Amatul-Wadud, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s lone challenger in the state’s Sept. 4 Democratic primary. “It sent a message to all of our volunteers, voters and supporters that winning is very possible.”

From Congress to state legislatures and school boards, Muslim Americans spurred to action by the anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his supporters are running for elected offices in numbers not seen since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, say Muslim groups and political observers.

Many, like Amatul-Wadud, hope to ride the surge of progressive activism within the Democratic Party that delivered Ocasio-Cortez’s unlikely win and could help propel the Democrats back to power in November.

Still, the path to victory can be tougher for a Muslim American. Some promising campaigns already have fizzled out while many more face strong anti-Muslim backlash.

In Michigan, Democrat candidate for governor Abdul El-Sayed continues to face unfounded claims from a GOP rival that he has ties to the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, even though Republican and Democratic politicians alike have denounced the accusations as “conspiracy theories.”

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