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Ilhan Omar

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Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar - 2016 (cropped).jpg
Member-elect of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota's 5th district
Assuming office
January 3, 2019
SucceedingKeith Ellison
Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives
from the 60B district
Assumed office
January 3, 2017
Preceded byPhyllis Kahn
Succeeded byMohamud Noor (elect)
Personal details
Born (1981-10-04) October 4, 1981 (age 37)
Mogadishu, Somalia
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Ahmed Hirsi
Ahmed Nur Said Elmi (div.)
EducationNorth Dakota State University (BA)
WebsiteOfficial website

Ilhan Omar (born October 4, 1981)[1] is a Somali American politician from Minnesota. In 2016, she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, making her the first Somali American legislator elected to office in the United States.[2]

On November 6, 2018, Omar became the first Somali American elected to the United States Congress, representing Minnesota's 5th congressional district, which spans Minneapolis, Edina, Richfield, Golden Valley and other suburbs. Along with Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, she was one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.[3] Omar is also the first Muslim former refugee to be elected to the House and the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota.[4]

Early life and education

Omar was born in on October 4, 1981,[5] in Mogadishu and was raised in Baydhabo, Somalia.[6][7] She was the youngest of seven siblings. Ilhan's father, Nur Omar Mohamed, is a Somali, and worked as a teacher trainer.[8] Her mother was a Benadiri, and died when Omar was a child.[9] She was thereafter raised by her father and grandfather.[10] 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.[8] 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.[11]

In 1995, Omar and her family immigrated to the United States, initially settling in Arlington, Virginia.[12] In 1995, they moved to Minneapolis, where Ilhan learned English in only three months. Her father and grandfather emphasized during her upbringing the importance of democracy, and she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings at age 14, serving as his interpreter.[10][9] Omar became a U.S. citizen in 2000, at the age of 17.[13]

Omar attended Edison High School, and volunteered there as a student organizer.[5] She graduated from North Dakota State University[9] with bachelor's degrees in political science and international studies in 2011.[14][15][better source needed]

Omar was a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.[15]

Early career

Omar with John Sullivan in Paris as part of Minnesota's World's fair Bid Committee

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.[15]

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.[15] During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and incurred some injuries.[8] 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.[16]

As of September 2015, Omar was the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network.[15] The association advocates for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.[17]

Minnesota House of Representatives


Omar at the Twin Cities Pride Parade in 2018

In 2016, Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives. On August 9, Omar defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary.[18] 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.[19] In November 2016, Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the United States.[2] Her term began on January 3, 2017.[20]

Tenure and political positions

Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call has called Omar a "progressive rising star."[21] She supports a $15 hourly minimum wage[22] and free tuition for college students whose family income is below $125,000 as well as greater accessibility to student loan forgiveness programs.[23] She is an Assistant Minority Leader for the DFL caucus.[24]


Omar has been critical of the Israeli government, referring to it as "the apartheid Israeli regime,"[25] asserting that Israel has "hypnotized the world" to overlook the aerial bombardment of civilians, which she characterized as "evil doings,"[26] recommending that the University of Minnesota divest from Israel bonds, and criticizing a law intended to prohibit the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Accused of antisemitism by a few right-wing critics, she has responded that her criticism of some of the Israeli government's actions in no way implies hatred of Jewish people: “These accusations are without merit,” she said. “They are rooted in bigotry toward a belief about what Muslims are stereotyped to believe.”[25] At an August candidates forum held in a synagogue during the last week of the 2018 primary campaign, she said a boycott of Israel is not helpful in working toward a two-state solution, and that "it is going to be important for us to recognize Israel's place in the Middle East and the Jewish people's rightful place within that region."[26]

Committee assignments

  • Civil Law & Data Practices Policy
  • Higher Education & Career Readiness Policy & Finance
  • State Government Finance[27]

Campaign finance allegations

In 2018, Republican state representative Steve Drazkowski publicly accused Omar of campaign finance violations, claiming that she used campaign money to pay a divorce lawyer in 2017 and that her acceptance of speaking fees from public colleges violated Minnesota House rules. Omar denied the allegation about the legal fees, saying they were related to her campaign, but said she would return the speaking fees.[28][29]

Drazkowski later accused Omar of using state resources and staff for private business[30] and purchasing plane tickets for personal travel with campaign money.[31] An October 2018 editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune argued that Omar should be more transparent about her use of campaign funds. Omar responded that the allegations were politically motivated and she would instead focus on the issues.[13]

U.S. House of Representatives



On June 5, 2018, Omar filed to run for the U.S. House from Minnesota's 5th congressional district after Representative Keith Ellison announced he would not seek re-election.[32] (Ellison instead ran successfully for Attorney General of Minnesota.) On June 17, she was endorsed by the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party after two rounds of voting.[33] Omar won the August 14 primary with 48.2% of the vote.[34] She faced health care worker and conservative activist Jennifer Zielinski in the November 6 general election.[35] She won with 78.0% of the vote, becoming the first Somali American elected to the U.S. Congress, as well as (alongside former Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib) the first Muslim woman elected to the U.S. Congress.[36][37]

Omar received the largest percentage of the vote of any female candidate for U.S. House in state history,[38] as well as the largest percentage of the vote for a non-incumbent candidate for U.S. House (excluding those running against only non-major-party candidates) in state history.[38]

Awards and honors

In 2014, Omar was named a rising star in the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party's Women's Hall of Fame.[15]

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.[39]

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.[40] Her family was named one of the "five families who are changing the world as we know it" by Vogue in their February 2018 issue featuring photographs by Annie Leibovitz.[41]

The 2018 documentary film Time for Ilhan, directed by Norah Shapiro, chronicles Omar's political campaign.[42] It was selected to show at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Personal life

Omar is Muslim[17] and belongs to the Majeerteen clan from Northeastern Somalia.

In 2002 Omar became engaged to marry Ahmed Hirsi (né Ahmed Aden). They applied for a marriage license, but the application was not finalized. The pair had two children together before separating in 2008. In 2009, Omar married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen. In 2011, she and Elmi had a faith-based divorce,[43] and in 2017 the two were legally divorced.[29] In 2011, she reconciled with Hirsi. They had a third child in 2012, and in 2018 they were legally married.[13] Omar, Hirsi, and their three children live in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.[17]


  1. ^ Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN)
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Golden, Erin (2018-11-07). "Ilhan Omar makes history, becoming first Somali-American elected to U.S. House". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
  4. ^ O'Grady, Siobhán (2018-11-07). "Trump demonized Somali refugees in Minnesota. One of them just won a seat in Congress". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Reinl, James (November 15, 2016). "Ilhan Omar: First female Somali American lawmaker". Al Jazeera. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  7. ^ Omar, Ilhan (June 16, 2016). "Questions from a 5th grader". Neighbors for Ilhan. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "Ilhan Omar elected first Somali-American legislator in the US". Al Arabiya English. November 9, 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b c Forliti, Amy (October 17, 2018). "Minnesota House hopeful calls marriage, fraud claims 'lies'". Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  14. ^ North Dakota, State of. "NDSU Magezine Winter 2017 Excerpts". North Dakota State University. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Ilhan Omar". Linkedin. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  16. ^ Nord, James; Bierschbach, Briana (February 18, 2014). "Allegations of threats, bullying follow Cedar-Riverside caucus brawl". MinnPost. Minneapolis. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  17. ^ a b c "Bio - Ilhan for State Representative - 60B". Ilhan Omar. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Sawyer, Liz (August 27, 2016). "GOP state House candidate to suspend campaign against Ilhan Omar". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  20. ^ Lopez, Ricardo (January 4, 2017). "Dayton, legislators kick off session in newly refurbished Capitol". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  21. ^ Cirillo, Jeff (August 13, 2018). "Abuse Allegations Loom Over Minnesota Race to Replace Ellison". Roll Call. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  22. ^ Berry, Erica (July 11, 2017). "The Country's First Somali-American Legislator and Her Politics of Inclusivity". Pacific Standard. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  23. ^ Faircloth, Ryan (August 24, 2016). "Debate spotlights veteran, newcomers". Minnesota Daily. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  24. ^ "Minnesota Legislature - Office of the Revisor of Statutes".
  25. ^ a b "Muslim Candidate for Congress Calls Israel 'Apartheid Regime'". Haaretz. 2018-07-09. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  26. ^ a b Kampeas, Ron (15 August 2015). "News Brief Ilhan Omar, who once called Israel an 'apartheid regime,' wins congressional primary in Minnesota". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  27. ^ "Ilhan Omar (DFL) 60B - Minnesota House of Representatives".
  28. ^ Bierschbach, Briana (2018-07-30). "Drazkowski: Omar's speaking fees violate House policy". Minnesota Public Radio Capitol View. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  29. ^ a b Van Berkel, Jessie (July 24, 2018). "Fellow legislator accuses Ilhan Omar of using campaign funds for divorce lawyer: Omar and her divorce attorney say allegation of misuse of funds is false". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  30. ^ Gockowski, Anthony (2018-08-28). "New Evidence Reveals That Ilhan Omar, Democrat Nominee to Succeed Keith Ellison in Congress, Used 'State Resources' To Conduct Private Business". Tennessee Star. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  31. ^ "Minnesota lawmaker questions Omar's campaign spending". St. Cloud Times. 2018-10-10. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  32. ^ Potter, Kyle (June 5, 2018). "Nation's 1st Somali-American lawmaker eyes seat in Congress". Associated Press. Retrieved June 8, 2018.
  33. ^ Golden, Erin (June 18, 2018). "DFL endorses Omar for Ellison's congressional seat". Star Tribune. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  34. ^ "Omar wins DFL primary for 5th District congressional seat". The New York Times. August 14, 2018. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  35. ^ KMSP (August 14, 2018). "Ilhan Omar, Jennifer Zielinski win primary for Minnesota's 5th District". Fox9. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  36. ^ Newburger, Emma (August 15, 2018). "Two Democrats are poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress". CNBC. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  37. ^ "Ilhan Omar: Reaction to first Somali-American elected to Congress - BBC News". 2018-11-07. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  38. ^ a b Ostermeier, Eric (November 13, 2018). "Ilhan Omar nearly breaks Minnesota U.S. House electoral record". Smart Politics. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  39. ^ Mugo, Kari (October 23, 2015). "African diaspora shines at the African Awards Gala". Mshale. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  40. ^ "Minneapolis Rep. Ilhan Omar featured on Time Magazine cover". TwinCities. 7 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  41. ^ "5 Families Changing the World". Vogue (magazine). 11 January 2018.
  42. ^ "'Time for Ilhan': Film Review | Tribeca 2018". Hollywood Reporter. April 27, 2018.
  43. ^ "DFL candidate Ilhan Omar explains marital history in statement". Fox9. Retrieved 9 August 2018.

See also

External links