Muslim lawmaker-elect Ilhan Omar campaigns to end head-covering ban in Congress

Muslim lawmaker-elect Ilhan Omar campaigns to end head-covering ban in Congress
The progressive Somali-American has backing to allow religious exemptions to the 181-year-old ban on head coverings on the House floor, a reflection of the increasing diversity of US Congress
3 min read
20 November, 2018
Omar said it was not the only ban she planned on reversing [Getty]
Muslim congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar has co-authored changes to a long-standing rule banning the wearing of head coverings on the US House floor, an effort supported Monday by the nation's largest Muslim rights group.

Omar, a Somali refugee who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress earlier this month, has joined Democratic leaders in drafting an update to a 181-year-old rule to allow for religious exemptions for headwear like the Muslim hijab, Jewish yarmulkes or Sikh turban.

The change is part of a rules package introduced by senior Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that is expected to be approved in January, when Democrats take majority control of the chamber.

"No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It's my choice - one protected by the first amendment," Omar posted Saturday on Twitter.

"And this is not the last ban I'm going to work to lift," added the Minnesota representative-to-be.

The proposal earned the backing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"We support the effort to update this anachronistic policy and to bring the House of Representatives into conformity with the Constitution and its existing protection of religious freedom," said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

A record number of women, and scores of minorities including Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, will fill the ranks of the 116th Congress when it convenes beginning 3 January.

Democrat Jim McGovern, expected to chair the House Rules Committee starting in January, said the update reflects the broader diversity in Congress.

"This change will finally codify that no restriction may be placed on a member's ability to do the job they were elected to do simply because of their faith," he said.

The head-covering rule has vexed some lawmakers, notably Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is known for her colourful hats and has pushed to get the ban lifted.

Under the proposed changes, Wilson would still be barred from wearing hats on the House floor.

Omar, part of the so-called "progressive wave" entering the House in the new year, has already announced her support for the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement in support of Palestinian rights.

"For me, that particular issue really is about making sure that we are people who understand that there is oppression happening, and speak to that as you would for issues that are safe," Omar told Muslim Girl.

"I believe that it doesn’t really matter who you are, and where you live, and who has empowered you; no one has a right ever to transgress on other's rights."