My DAD IS from Madras, India and my mom is from Karachi in Pakistan. I was born in Canada, which is where they met. When I was five years old, my dad got a job offer in North Carolina and they packed up and moved. I was raised in Raleigh, and then, when it came time to move out of my parent's home, I decided to move to Durham because that's where I wanted to start my family. 

Growing up, most of my friends were Desi. I even first met my husband in middle school at one of our Desi friends' houses. I have two older sisters and they've always been very goody two shoes: especially my oldest sister, she’s the ammajaan of the family. And my middle sister just goes with the flow. I was the one who was always like, why aren't we allowed to say this? Why can’t I go here?

WHEN I STARTED getting involved in politics, my parents were concerned. Being Muslim and especially being a Muslim woman, no one talks about politics. Everyone’s just kind of like, no, let's not get involved in that.

she/her

Tw: hate crime,

violence, murder  

> Not because we don't care about what's happening politically, but because politicians and the media just talk about us in such a certain way that getting involved was kind of like putting yourself into a trap. 

And so when I got involved in the Bernie campaign, my dad was like, he's going to lose. This isn't going to go anywhere. You know, your sisters studied engineering and science, they’re starting their own companies. What are you doing? And I just told him, this is something I really, really care about. I need to try it.

 

When I graduated, I had a job offer at MetLife, and I asked them to push back my start date so I could go to South Carolina to work on the Bernie campaign. This was the first time any of my parents’ daughters was moving out and so it took them a long time to get used to it. Every single day they'd be calling me. How is it? What's going on? Are you OK? I think you should come back. It took them a while to get used to it, but now they've become my biggest supporters and they love doing everything with me. And it's funny because white people aren't used to that. They aren't used to your family being at every event cheering you on and just being there all the time.  

I WAS STILL in college in February 2015 when my three friends, Deah, Yusor and Razan, were murdered in the Chapel Hill shooting. Deah and Yusor had gotten married just seven weeks before. Yusor’s sister Razan had gone over for dinner when their neighbor had come and murdered them in their home. It was a hate crime. The incident occurred because Yusor was visibly Muslim, she wore the hijab, Razan wore the the hijab. And the way that the media responded was saying it was over a parking dispute. That you could take their lives and push it into something so minimal and say that they were murdered over a parking spot really just filled us with so much anger. It took their families having to continuously say, my kids were not taking over a parking spot, for some media to start using the right narrative. But now it's at the point where if anyone hears about the Chapel Hill shooting, they'll be like, oh, yeah, that's the one about the parking spot, right? The damage was done. And so that really is what drove me. 

When I graduated, I had a job offer at MetLife, and I asked them to push back my start date so I could go to South Carolina to work on the Bernie campaign. This was the first time any of my parents’ daughters was moving out and so it took them a long time to get used to it. Every single day they'd be calling me. How is it? What's going on? Are you OK? I think you should come back. It took them a while to get used to it, but now they've become my biggest supporters and they love doing everything with me. And it's funny because white people aren't used to that. They aren't used to your family being at every event cheering you on and just being there all the time.  

> Realising that this is how society sees us and that we're just dispensable to them. I wanted to see change in the way that Muslims are talked about. Whenever there's a terrorist

incident, Muslims are always the first ones to be blamed and then we're all expected to apologize for it.

What also drew me to politics was carrying on the legacy of my friends. I don't want to let their parents down and I want them to see that their daughters’ legacy of service is still being continued, that their names haven’t been forgotten, that people still remember their story, how they lived their lives, how they practiced, how they were proud Muslim Americans.

I REMEMBER THE first day I got to South Carolina, I went to a Chick-fil-A because I needed to get lunch. I walked into the restaurant and everyone stopped eating and turned around and just stared at me. And I was like, I don't know what to do, so I quickly got my food. And I went and I ate in my car because I was like, I don't even feel comfortable sitting in there. And it was constant experiences like that. I would have to go door to door to talk to voters and I had to do it alone, and a lot of these people had never seen a Muslim person before, I’d get chased out of their yards, get cursed at. 

While running for a seat on the Durham County Board of Commissioners, one thing I always thought about is that despite having figures like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar as inspiration, I couldn’t model my campaign after them. In North Carolina, it's a different ball game, we're in the South. I have to go through the hurdles of Confederacy, people sending me messages, telling me to go back to where I came from. One thing I do hope to see is that my campaign becomes an example for other Muslim women who want to run in North Carolina or even other Southern states, the strategies that we used, how to effectively get our messaging out there, how to build relationships with different community groups.

BEING THE FIRST Muslim woman to be elected to any office in North Carolina, I don’t want to be tokenised. For people to say, oh we're so diverse, we elected the first Muslim woman. Like, yes, it's something to celebrate, but also, why did it take so long to reach this point? 

> Why has it taken us so long in the entire state of North Carolina, at any level of elected office? Why did you not see me or women like me capable or qualified enough before this point?

It’s also a lot of pressure, because people need that support and representation from you. Being a representative of the Muslim community, of Muslim women, of South Asians, everyone looks to me like oh, is that what other South Asian or other Muslim women are going to do?

A LOT OF people still question me regarding my faith. I recently got asked if my religion is going to influence my policy and decision making. I told that person, honestly, I hope so. Because for me, my religion teaches me that if your neighbor doesn't have food on their table, it's your responsibility to do something about it. Either you take some food over to them or find the systems that are in place that are keeping food off their table and tear them down. So for me, that stems from my religion, the value of a human life, the value of taking care of someone comes from the morals my parents raised me with. So, yes, I do hope that I lead with my morals.

NIDA ALLAM (she/her) has been a grassroots organiser since high school. In 2017, she was elected as 3rd Vice Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party and in 2018, she was unanimously elected as Chair of the Durham Mayor’s Council for Women. In 2020, she was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners, becoming the first Muslim woman to hold public office in North Carolina. You can follow and support the work she’s doing to uplift her community here.