Why are Muslims divided on Rep. Ilhan Omar?


This piece is the first of two-part series on American Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, in which I try to explain why her politics divide Muslims. In the next one, I will explain why some Muslims, especially non-Islamists, are still supporting her. So stay tuned 

Ilhan Omar photosRep. Ilhan Omar. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images


The supporters of US Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar cry racism, discrimination, and character assassination against her detractors, but despite this relentless defense, these supporters have failed to shake off the negative image she has projected not just among many Americans, but among many Muslims inside and outside the US.

Back in January this year, nearly all Muslims, myself included, were delighted to see the first Somali hijabi Muslim refugee, Ilhan Omar, elected in the American Congress. Many of us, however, did not expect that the Muslim Congresswoman would create endless controversies, and even attack another Muslim woman who dared to ask her a question in a Muslim conference.

At a Muslim Caucus Education Collective’s conference in Washington, Ani Osman -Zonneveld, a non-Hijabi progressive Muslim urged Ilhan Omar to state her views on female genital mutilation (FGM). “I’d like to know if you will be able to make a statement against FGM, because that’s an issue in Detroit,” she said. “It would be really powerful if the two Muslim congresswomen, yourself and Rashida (Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan) would make a statement on this issue.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar replied that the question was “appalling” and “frustrating” and that “she was quite disgusted by the question.” Outraged, Ilhan later turned to other Muslim panellists (who enthusiastically applauded her response), and said: “I want to make sure the next time someone is in an audience that they ask us the proper questions they will probably ask any member of Congress or any legislator or any politician.”

Moreover, Ilhan’s fan club rushed to praise her reply. One of her top supporters, Mehdi Hasan,tweeted: “Most Muslims born and brought up in the West – including, erm, me – have been waiting our whole lives for a politician who is Muslim to get elected and deliver an answer like this to the ‘usual’ Qs. I felt like cheering as I listened to Ilhan Omar deliver this powerful riposte.”  Not one of these supporters, however, spared a thought for Osman-Zonneveld, who is also a Muslim, guilty only of asking an innocent question in a polite manner. Moreover, the question was relevant and highlighted how FGM remains a problem, despite legislation Ilhan alluded to in her condescending reply. Some studies suggest that, incredibly, there are 44,293women at risk of FGM in Ilhan Omar’s state of Minnesota alone.

To understand why Ilhan Omar snapped at a fellow Muslim, we first have to understand who is she and what she stands for. Ilhan Omar is a new-generation Islamist Muslim who uses her faith to define her political identity. She quotes passages from the Quran in her tweets, and proudly wears the hijab as a sign of devotion to orthodox Islam. But then she cherry-picks some aspects of liberalism, such as opposing the death penalty, favouring abortion, and supporting gay and transgender rights.

Such a liberal-orthodox mix aims to appeal to progressive Westerners and fit in with their anti-Trump agenda, while maintaining popularity among her Islamist base. It was ironic to see Ilhan, a supposedly orthodox Hijabi Muslim, support abortion, which Islam view as murder, and which is only sanctioned in exceptional circumstances. This stance favouring abortion is in strong contrast to her opposition of the death penalty, which Omar describes as heinous, despite  several Quranic verses that describe it as just punishment for heinous crimes.

Politically, Rep. llhan Omar deliberately blurs the difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as an ideology. She has opted to give an interview to controversial outlets, such as Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera, in which she described US relations with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates (Qatar opponents) as “immoral”. Ilhan Omar is now openly backed by variousIslamistgroups inside and outside America, including the ruling party in Turkey. Turkish president Resep Tayyip Erdoganmet Omar before he and his foreign minister congratulated her on her election wins. Later, Erdogan’s pro-government news outlets encouraged readers to donateto Omar’s campaign fund.

Ilhan Omar does not directly support radical Islamist groups, but, like other Islamists, she refuses to admit the ideological link between Islamism and radicalism. Ilhan prefers to blame oppression and American policies – a common line shared by Islamists and Western progressives. Those who confront certain literalistic Interpretations of Islamic theology that sanction terrorism and other barbaric practices such as the FGM issue Ani Osman -Zonneveld raised can be a thorn in  the flesh to both camps.

It is no surprise that Ilhan Omar snapped at a progressive Muslim. True progressive Muslims are reformers who challenge their own communities to ask difficult questions about faith and society. They stand up and oppose instances of social Islamism that sanction misogyny, barbarism, and regression. Progressive Muslims reject tribalism and identity politics, and instead welcome integration and openness. They do not indulge in victimhood and self-righteous attitudes, and prefer to address the flaws of their own communities, instead of playing the victim card. More importantly, progressive Muslims do not cherry-pick reforms; they openly advocate modern interpretations of Islamic texts on every aspect of life, from the death penalty to the mandatory hijab.

Ilhan’s attitude towards Osman-Zonneveld is in harmony with the views of another progressive member of the Congress, Democrat Ayanna Pressley,who said recently: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

Yes, for Ilhan Omar and her fellow “Progressive Squad”, anyone who dares to challenge them is bad and wrong. They advocate diversity in America, but reject diversity within their own communities.

Ilhan Omar is not a liberal Muslim with a headscarf; she is an Islamist with a deceptive liberal cover that aims to alienate real progressive Muslims, and present herself and her Islamist clans as useful voices in the fight against US president Donald Trump. But progressive and reformist Muslims will not go away. They will continue to be vocal and challenge trendy Islamist charlatans such as Ilhan Omar. Furthermore, they will not be intimidated by Western progressive who misguidedly opt to believe in Ilhan’s farcical progressiveness. The fight for the soul of Islam is bigger than Ilhan Omar, and will continue, despite her snappy condescending manner.



About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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22 Responses to Why are Muslims divided on Rep. Ilhan Omar?

  1. G says:

    Finally a sane voice realising the duplicity of Ilhan Omar. She is a hard-core Islamist fanatic bound to destroy all progressive Muslims. The sooner she is exposed the better

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article, thanks from New Zealand.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul says:

    Excellent piece Dr. Mahmoud. When I heard her “Some people did something” line I remembered that it is a fairly common belief among Radical Islamists that 9-11 was carried out by Mossad. Trying to explain to westerners how the Mossad is the go-to Boogeyman for Islamic Extremists is very difficult. The first time I heard it was from a naturalised Egyptian-American woman who said the Tahrir Square uprising was fomented by Israeli agents and all I could do was stand there slack-jawed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Erica Smythe says:

    A great version of Ms. Omar, but missing some context that hopefully will be explored in additional columns.

    Ms. Omar follows Keith Ellison in the role of U.S Representative serving the majority of Minneapolis. Keith Ellison, like Ms. Omar…is an Islamic Socialist. In essence, they believe in Marxism, which Ms. Omar learned at the knee of her father in their early days of Somalia, when Somalia was ruled by the Somalian Revolutionary Socialist Party (founded and funded by the then USSR).

    Ms. Omar only began wearing the hijab after 9/11. Unknown is whether she felt like Muslims were being oppressed by that event, or if she did it in solidarity with those who attacked America on that infamous morning in September 2001.

    Regardless, Ms. Omar uses the hijab to borrow moral standing from Islam when, in fact, she’s not adherent to much of Islam’s teachings in any way, shape or form.

    The goal right now for Ms. Omar and Mr. Ellison is to confuse and obfuscate their love and affiliation with the Nation of Islam and the anti-Semite messages cited quite frequently in speeches made by Mr. Farrahkhan himself.

    One common thread between Socialists/Marxists and Fascists is an anti-Semitic tone that blames many of the problems in the world on an unfair system that is rigged by white people and Jews to keep minority populations oppressed.

    The more people read about the nexus between Islamic Socialism and Ms. Omar’s political leanings, the more uncomfortable they become. The only one’s encouraging her rabble-rousing approach are often found in the Progressive (shall I say Socialist?) enclaves of Golden Valley, Edina and Minneapolis’s Jewish community.

    A serious person would ask “why would Jews support an anti-Semite candidate?”

    A rational person would ask “why would Socialists support a Marxist?”


    • nervana111 says:

      Thank you Erica. There is no doubt that Ilhan has some leftist beliefs, but I think she is getting more and more Islamized recently. Simply because it is more rewarding politically within the Muslim communities. She now got Qatar and Turkey and the entire Muslim Brotherhood groups to back her and finance her campaign. She is not the first example. Many leftists in Egypt turned Islamists in the 70s and 80s when Islamism was clearly on the rise.


  5. David Farer says:

    An excellent an clear piece, written with grace. Greetings from Sderot, Israel, where you are always welcome.


  6. Joe Miller says:

    The silence from real progressive Muslims re that Islamist is deafening. Her anti USA anti White anti Jewish rhetoric does the Muslim community no favors. Unfortunately I get the impression most American Muslims support her radicalism.


  7. Mary Mckenna says:

    Brilliant, brave analysis. Omar’s arrogant refusal to answer legitimate questions has been aided by the same reporters who demand “transparency” from other powerful people.


  8. Gill says:

    I like you article, but I think you got the last part wrong when you stated “Ilhan Omar is not a liberal Muslim with a headscarf; she is an Islamist with a deceptive liberal cover”

    I believe she is a leftist in Islamic cover. I would point to her personal life, and her father’s role as a communist enforcer of ideology in the previous Somali government.

    Omar is particularly passionate when Islamism and leftism collide (ie anti-Israel), but seems to choose leftism when she has to, or in her personal life.

    Your example of the fgm question supports your position, but I believe that she engaged with a blustery dodge to avoid alienating her base, but I would guess her daughter was not subjected to fgm (though I could be wrong)- so when rubber met the road, she chose leftism.


    • nervana111 says:

      Thank you Gill for reading my article and for your valuable thoughts. There is no doubt that Ilhan has some leftist beliefs, but I think she is getting more and more Islamized recently. Simply because it is more rewarding politically within the Muslim communities. She now got Qatar and Turkey and the entire Muslim Brotherhood groups to back her and finance her campaign. She is not the first example. Many leftists in Egypt turned Islamists in the 70s and 80s when Islamism was clearly on the rise.


    • G says:

      Being from India , where we were ruled by Islamic invaders for 700 years , there can be no doubt. There is no leftism or any ism in them. Their ultimate goal as per their religion is an Islamist world. To that end they will do anything including leaning to the left; but that is only as a path forward for them. They have already reached your congress. Be warned.


  9. Thomas Stone says:

    Has Ms. Omar ever been to a gay pride parade? (in Minneapolis, not Mogadishu)


  10. Gill says:

    I didn’t realize that about 80’s leftists in Egypt. There is an analog with many former European communists in the 90’s melting into the various green movements, but those two are more simpatico than leftism and Islam.

    Early American feminists were largely organized around Christian organizations to ban drinking and prostitution, and to seek the franchise. When feminism morphed to sexual liberation, which was very much at odds with Christian teaching, the feminists jettisoned the church. The history and angst over the YWCA (C is for Christian) is a good microcosm.

    Do you see something like that happening between the incompatible tenants of leftism and islam?


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