New Jersey’s Muslim community has made strides in local politics in recent years, winning seats statewide as mayors, board members, and school board commissioners.
Despite their growing political power, no Muslim has ever served in the state legislature.
That changed on election day, however, when former Tenafly city councilor Shama Haider won the state assembly race in the 37th district of Bergen County.
“I am extremely proud of our campaign”, Haider, a Democrat, said Wednesday morning. “I am grateful to my historic running mates who have been so supportive throughout these months and I am infinitely grateful to all of the people who have worked and volunteered to make this victory possible.”
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Haider was part of a revolutionary Democratic ticket in the 37th, which covers eastern Bergen County. Voters also elected Gordon Johnson as the first African-American state senator for New Jersey’s most populous county and Ellen Park as what would be the first Korean American woman in the assembly.
While acknowledging the historic nature of her victory as a Muslim woman, Haider also said that shouldn’t define her.
âI don’t want to be this symbolic Muslim woman in the assembly,â she said. “No, I want to be known as an effective legislator.”
Haider, 72, has been active in local politics for more than two decades, serving twice on Tenafly’s board starting in 2001 and in 2015. While the events of the September 11 attacks prompted many Muslims to leave. getting involved in politics and reaching out to their communities, Haider said she had already been deeply involved in local issues at the time.
Her activism dates back to her youth in Pakistan, when she was a student and again protested against the military dictatorship as part of the Pakistani People’s Progressive Party. Later, she became secretary to the first lady of Pakistan, Begum Nusrat Bhutto.
Haider arrived in the United States in 1977, settling in Bergen County. She is a former fundraiser for a nonprofit organization that supports the arts in schools and is the chair of the Democratic Tenafly party. She has also served over the years on county and district committees focusing on women, social services, the environment and business development.
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Focus on the environment, diversity
As a member of the assembly, Haider said she wanted to focus on the environment and renewable energy and teach diversity and culture in school to promote tolerance.
She was one of three Muslim women running for state office in New Jersey, all of Pakistani descent. Democrat Sadaf Jaffer, former mayor of Montgomery, lost a close race in the 16th Assembly District in central New Jersey. In Hudson County, incumbent Senator Brian Stack, a Democrat, defeated Republican Agha Khan, who is a Muslim. Stack received around 85% of the total vote.
More than 30 Muslims ran for office across New Jersey in state and local races. Haider said this was a trend she hopes will continue in a state where 3% of the population identifies as Muslim.
âThe answer is to have more elected Muslims, more men and more women, so people are used to it, so they’re not a strange person and not a person here or there.
âThe involvement doesn’t have to stop with running for office,â she said. âYou have to support the right candidates. You have to be visible and active in the community. “
Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, prejudice and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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