Ilhan Omar

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Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar - 2017 (cropped).jpg
Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives
from the 60B district
Assumed office
January 3, 2017
Preceded by Phyllis Kahn
Personal details
Born 1982 (age 35–36)
Mogadishu, Somalia
Political party Democratic
Domestic partner Ahmed Hirsi
Children 3
Education North Dakota State University (BA)
Website Official website

Ilhan Omar (born 1982) is a Somali-American politician from Minnesota. In 2016, she was elected a Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States.[1] She is the Director of Policy and Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network.

Omar is a candidate for U. S. Representative in Minnesota's 5th congressional district.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Omar was born in 1982[3] in Mogadishu and was raised in Baydhabo, Somalia.[4][5] She was the youngest of seven siblings and grew up in an upper-middle-class household. Ilhan's father, Nur Omar Mohamed, is Somali, and worked as a teacher trainer.[6] Her mother was Yemeni, and died when Omar was a child.[7] She was thereafter raised by her father and grandfather.[8] Ilhan's grandfather, Abukar, was the director of Somalia's National Marine Transport, with her uncles and aunts also working as civil servants and educators.[6] After the start of the civil war in 1991, she and her family fled the country and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya.[9]

In 1995, Omar and her family emigrated to the United States, initially settling in Arlington, Virginia.[10] In 1995, they moved to Minneapolis, where Ilhan learned English in only three months. Her father and grandfather inculcated in her the importance of democracy, and she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings at age 14, serving as his interpreter.[8][7]

Omar attended Edison High School, and volunteered there as a student organizer.[3] She graduated from North Dakota State University[7] with a bachelor's degree in political science and international studies in 2011.[11][12][better source needed]

Omar was a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.[12]

Early career[edit]

Omar speaking at a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign rally in 2016

Omar began her professional career as a community nutrition educator at the University of Minnesota, working in that capacity from 2006 to 2009 in the Greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. In 2012, she served as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic's reelection campaign for the Minnesota State Senate. Between 2012 and 2013, she was a child nutrition outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education.[12]

In 2013, Omar managed Andrew Johnson's campaign for Minneapolis City Council. After Johnson was elected, she served as his Senior Policy Aide from 2013 to 2015.[12] During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and incurred some injuries.[6] According to MinnPost, the day before the caucus, Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame had told Johnson to warn Omar not to attend the meeting.[13]

As of September 2015, Omar is the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network.[12] The association advocates for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.[14]

Minnesota House of Representatives[edit]


Omar at a Minnesota House DFL press conference in 2017

In 2016, Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives. Her chief opponent in the general election was Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, also an activist in the Somali-American community. In late August, Askar announced his withdrawal from the campaign due to his graduate studies and the death of his father.[15]

On August 9, Omar defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary.[16] Shortly after she won the nomination, the conservative blog Power Line questioned the legal status of her marriage vows and wedding license.[17] According to her colleague Andrew Johnson, the story's timing suggested that its motive was to tarnish her image. Omar herself speculated that the allegations were planted by previously elected officials in her community and singled out Abdi Warsame, suggesting that he felt threatened by her growing political clout.[6]

In November 2016, Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali-American legislator in the United States.[1] Her term began on January 3, 2017.[18]

Tenure and political positions[edit]

Omar supports a $15 hourly minimum wage[19] and free tuition for college students whose family income is below $125,000 as well as greater accessibility to student loan forgiveness programs.[20] As of May 2018, she had authored 38 bills, though none have been passed into law.[21] She is an Assistant Minority Leader for the DFL caucus.

Omar has been critical of the actions of the Israeli government, referring to it as "the apartheid Israeli regime".[22] She supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, having recommended that the University of Minnesota divest from bonds belonging to Israel, and criticized an anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions law.[22] Some conservative critics have claimed that these views are anti-Semitic, an accusation Omar rejects.[22]

Committee assignments[edit]

  • Civil Law & Data Practices Policy
  • Higher Education & Career Readiness Policy & Finance
  • State Government Finance[23]


On June 5, 2018, Omar filed to run for U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 5th congressional district after Representative Keith Ellison announced that he would not seek reelection.[24] On June 17, she was endorsed by the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party after two rounds of voting.[25] She will face other candidates in an August 14 primary.[26]


In 2014, Omar was named a rising star in the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party's Women's Hall of Fame.[12]

She received the 2015 Community Leadership Award from Mshale, an African immigrant media outlet based in Minneapolis. The prize is awarded annually on a readership basis.[27]

In 2017, Time Magazine named Omar among its "Firsts: Women who are changing the world", a special report on 46 women who broke barriers in their respective disciplines, and featured her on the cover of its September 18 issue.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Omar is Muslim.[14] In 2002, at age 19, she began a relationship with Ahmed Hirsi (né Ahmed Aden). They were engaged to be married that year, and applied for a marriage license, but the application was never finalized. The pair had three children together before separating in 2008. In 2009, Omar married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen. Conservative outlets, including Powerline Blog, accused Omar of committing immigration fraud and bigamy by marrying her brother.[29] Omar described the allegations as "absolutely false and ridiculous".[30] In 2011, Omar reconciled with Hirsi, and they were married in a traditional ceremony.[17] She, Hirsi (whom she considers her husband), and their three children live in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.[14]


  1. ^ a b Blair, Olivia (November 9, 2016). "Ilhan Omar: Former refugee is elected as America's first Somali-American Muslim woman legislator". The Independent. London. Retrieved November 9, 2016. 
  2. ^ Bierschbach, Briana; Bakst, Brian; Pugmire, Tim (June 5, 2018). "Filing deadline drama: Rep. Omar jumps into race for Congress". Minnesota Public Radio. St. Paul, Minnesota. 
  3. ^ a b Duarte, Lorena (October 21, 2015). "'Done Wishing': Ilhan Omar on why she's running for House District 60B". MinnPost. Minneapolis. Retrieved August 18, 2016. 
  4. ^ Reinl, James (November 15, 2016). "Ilhan Omar: First female Somali American lawmaker". Al Jazeera. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  5. ^ Omar, Ilhan (June 16, 2016). "Questions from a 5th grader". Neighbors for Ilhan. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c d Zurowski, Cory (November 7, 2016). "Ilhan Omar's improbable journey from refugee camp to Minnesota Legislature". City Pages. Minneapolis: Star Tribune Media Company. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c Omar, Mahamad (November 1, 2016). "From Refugee to St. House Race, Ilhan Omar Looks to Break New Ground". Arab American Institute. Retrieved November 13, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Holpuch, Amanda (February 29, 2016). "'This is my country': Muslim candidate aims to break boundaries in Minnesota". The Guardian. London. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Ilhan Omar elected first Somali-American legislator in the US". Al Arabiya English. November 9, 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016. 
  10. ^ Karnowski, Steve (August 10, 2016). "Former Somali refugee poised to win office in Minnesota". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 10, 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016. 
  11. ^ North Dakota, State of. "NDSU Magezine Winter 2017 Excerpts". North Dakota State University. Retrieved 8 July 2018. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Ilhan Omar". Linkedin. Retrieved November 10, 2016. 
  13. ^ Nord, James; Bierschbach, Briana (February 18, 2014). "Allegations of threats, bullying follow Cedar-Riverside caucus brawl". MinnPost. Minneapolis. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  14. ^ a b c "Bio - Ilhan for State Representative - 60B". Ilhan Omar. Retrieved November 10, 2016. 
  15. ^ Sawyer, Liz (August 27, 2016). "GOP state House candidate to suspend campaign against Ilhan Omar". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Retrieved August 28, 2016. 
  16. ^ Coolican, J. Patrick; Klecker, Mara (August 10, 2016). "Ilhan Omar makes history with victory over long-serving Rep. Phyllis Kahn". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  17. ^ a b "DFL candidate Ilhan Omar explains marital history in statement". Fox9. August 17, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2016. 
  18. ^ Lopez, Ricardo (January 4, 2017). "Dayton, legislators kick off session in newly refurbished Capitol". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Retrieved July 14, 2017. 
  19. ^ Berry, Erica (July 11, 2017). "The Country's First Somali-American Legislator and Her Politics of Inclusivity". Pacific Standard. Retrieved June 25, 2018. 
  20. ^ Faircloth, Ryan (August 24, 2016). "Debate spotlights veteran, newcomers". Minnesota Daily. Retrieved September 6, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Minnesota Legislature - Office of the Revisor of Statutes". 
  22. ^ a b c "Muslim Candidate for Congress Calls Israel 'Apartheid Regime'". Haaretz. 2018-07-09. Retrieved 2018-07-16. 
  23. ^ "Ilhan Omar (DFL) 60B - Minnesota House of Representatives". 
  24. ^ Potter, Kyle (5 June 2018). "Nation's 1st Somali-American lawmaker eyes seat in Congress". Associated Press. Retrieved 8 June 2018. 
  25. ^ Golden, Erin. "DFL endorses Omar for Ellison's congressional seat". Star Tribune. 
  26. ^ Nelson, Tim (June 17, 2018). "Omar wins DFL endorsement for 5th District congressional seat". Minnesota Public Radio. 
  27. ^ Mugo, Kari (October 23, 2015). "African diaspora shines at the African Awards Gala". Mshale. Retrieved August 18, 2016. 
  28. ^ "Minneapolis Rep. Ilhan Omar featured on Time Magazine cover". TwinCities. 7 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017. 
  29. ^ Coolican, J. Patrick. "Ilhan Omar offers answers to questions about her marital history". Minneapolis Star Tribune. 
  30. ^ "DFL candidate Ilhan Omar explains marital history in statement". Fox9. Retrieved 9 August 2018. 

External links[edit]