In Massachusetts, Muslim Women Candidates Face Targeted Political Attacks

“It's insane to see the level of Islamophobia in these blue areas,” one of the candidates said.

Two Muslim women running for local office in Massachusetts say they have had their campaign materials vandalized this month, in what they describe as targeted attacks.

In Cambridge, City Council candidate Ayah Al-Zubi woke up last Tuesday to find that her bike had been stolen and that some of her campaign flyers had been shredded to pieces. “Fuck you” was written across the destroyed material left outside her apartment.

A few days later, in Worcester, which is less than 50 miles from Cambridge, City Councilor Etel Haxhiaj said in a social media post that her home had been hit with a baseball and that the campaign signs outside her house had been knocked down.

Muslim Americans have jumped into politics in record numbers in the last several years. During the 2018 midterm elections, many of them ran in response to former President Donald Trump, who targeted Muslims during his campaign and signed the Muslim travel ban into law as one of his first acts as president. More than 180 candidates who identified as Muslim were on 2020 ballots across 28 states and Washington, D.C., according to one report from a group of social justice organizations.

But Muslim Americans, particularly Muslim women, have faced backlash, bigotry and even violence as they’ve run for positions ranging from local office to Congress.

Just this week, a Massachusetts woman was sentenced to six months probation for a physical assault in which she called Maya Jamaleddine, a hijab-wearing Muslim woman on the Melrose City Council, a “terrorist Arab” and told her “to go back to her country.”

“I’m learning that when you have all these intersectional identities, let alone like just one, that you really become a threat to the system,” Al Zubi told HuffPost.

Al-Zubi, a 22-year-old Harvard alum, launched her race for Cambridge City Council over the summer and has been door-knocking since. She said people have slammed the door in her face when she has introduced herself and her volunteers, who are predominantly hijab-wearing Muslim women.

“My name is pretty Arab and it’s pretty Muslim as well,” Al-Zubi said. “I don’t feel safe.”

She said she has faced microaggressions while door-knocking as well, including people often confusing her with Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, who made history by becoming the state’s first Muslim mayor in 2020.

But she hadn’t experienced any backlash like she did at her home earlier this month, when she stepped outside to find that her bike was ripped off her porch and her campaign materials shredded. She said the incident has left her shaken.

Al-Zubi told HuffPost she filed a police report about the theft.

Cambridge has historically voted Democrat, but Al-Zubi said that doesn’t make the city immune to racism.

“It’s insane to see the level of Islamophobia in these blue areas,” she said.

On Friday night, Haxhiaj, who is running for reelection, posted a photo of her lawn that showed campaign signs knocked down.

“Tonight, while I was having dinner with my family someone hit my house violently with a baseball attempting to break the window of my living room. When we went out this is what we found,” she posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that she reported the incident to the police.

The Worcester Police Department did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. Mayor Joe Petty released a statement condemning the incident, adding “that violence against any individual, including current city councilors running for office, has no place in our democratic process.”

Haxhiaj was voted into office in 2021 and is the first Muslim and Albanian American elected to serve as city councilor in Worcester. Her campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, the executive director of the Massachusetts chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said she knows firsthand the reality of running for office as a visible Muslim woman. In 2018, she ran to represent Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District, but ultimately lost in the primary.

“We are always at risk to be on the receiving end of violence or threats of violence by anti Muslim actors,” she said. “When we’re running for office, we are so engaged with the public that risk increases, and it is dangerous.”

Language in this story has been updated to clarify the nature of the charges in the Maya Jamaleddine assault.

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