WASHINGTON –– 8:18 p.m. was the time on everyone’s mind Monday at the Capitol. For the Muslim attendees in the room ― including Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) ― and the non-Muslims alike, 8:18 meant it would finally be time to eat.
Carson, Omar and Tlaib, the three sitting Muslim members of Congress, were there for a historic iftar that recognized the holy month of Ramadan. They hosted the event along with Muslim Advocates, a D.C.-based nonprofit. It was the first iftar in U.S. history to be hosted by Muslim congresspeople.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) all spoke at the gathering of roughly 150 attendees. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was originally set to attend but at the last minute was unable to make it.
Last week, President Donald Trump hosted his own iftar, but reportedly did not invite any American Muslims. (The White House declined to share the guest list for this year’s event.)
Congress’ few Muslim members have faced a barrage of attacks lately, particularly Tlaib and Omar. But the mood in the room on Monday was not concerned with critics.
“They say that we have three in Congress,” Carson joked while speaking to the attendees, referring to his fellow Muslim lawmakers. “It’s really three plus AOC.” Omar and Tlaib, sitting just a few feet away, broke out in laughter.
Carson candidly talked about his onetime colleague, former Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), leaving Congress to run for attorney general back in his home state. Without Ellison, Carson would have been the only Muslim in Congress, and as the 2018 midterms approached, he was getting nervous, he said.
“I was saying I hope that these folks win, because I don’t want to be the only one,” Carson said, referring to Omar and Tlaib, both of whom were elected to Congress that November.
“You know, when you first come to Congress, I don’t care what you do and what you say,” he went on. “If you’re a Muslim, it’s going to get exaggerated. The flames will burn even higher and stronger.”
People in the room nodded. In recent weeks, Omar and Tlaib have been the target of high-profile bad-faith attacks and efforts to portray them as anti-Semitic. Trump tweeted an out-of-context clip of Omar and accused Tlaib of having a “obvious hatred for Israel and the Jewish people” (a claim that sounded especially specious coming from him). And a few days ago, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Omar “a symbol of America’s failed immigration system.”
With just minutes to go until sunset and the call to prayer, it was Omar’s turn to address the room. Dressed in a black maxi skirt, a black-and-white-printed blazer and a blue necklace with the Somali flag on it, the Minnesota representative spoke confidently. She made jokes, and when the audience laughed, she told them she felt relieved that people still allowed her to have a sense of humor.
Omar concluded her remarks with a tribute to Khizr Khan, whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004. Khizr and his wife, Ghazala, made headlines during the 2016 presidential campaign for challenging Trump. (After Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention that summer, Trump mocked Ghazala and implied that as a Muslim woman, she was not “allowed to speak.”)
On Monday, Omar looked at Khan, seated at the table in front of her, and recalled watching that moment on TV.
“Little did they know they were going to get the two loudest Muslim women in the country,” Omar told Khan and the crowd. “So as you enjoy your dates and iftar, please rejoice in knowing that [Trump and the GOP] are mortified of the fact that they had awakened a Muslim woman to fight for their space here in Congress.”
With that, the call to prayer signaled the end of the historic iftar. It was 8:18 p.m.