DETROIT — Michigan is getting its first female Muslim legislator, thanks in large part to her Jewish boss, the incumbent.
Rashida Tlaib, a lawyer, community activist and daughter of Palestinian immigrants, easily won a House seat in Tuesday's general election after emerging from an eight-way Democratic primary with 44 percent of the vote in August.
Tlaib, 32, said she wouldn't have run but for the repeated urging of Democratic state Rep. Steve Tobocman, who is stepping down because of term limits. Once she decided to run, she threw herself into it, knocking on 8,000 doors and hitting each household twice.
Southeastern Michigan has about 300,000 people with roots in the Arab world, but few of them live in Tlaib's largely black and Hispanic district in southwest Detroit.
"We view her victory as a sign that Michigan Muslims are welcomed as a part of our state's multi-faith and multiethnic society," said Dawud Walid, Michigan director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
According to the American Muslim Alliance, only nine Muslims were serving in state legislatures nationwide before Tuesday's elections, and only one of them is a woman. There are two Muslim members of Congress _ Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana.
The Michigan Legislature's first known Muslim member, James Karoub, served three terms in the state House in the 1960s.
Tobocman said he first met Tlaib about five years ago when she was working for the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, where she did advocacy work for immigrants.
"I was just really, really impressed," he said. When he later became majority floor leader and got another staff slot, he recruited Tlaib for the job. He said she brings a passion for social justice and the ability to work with people across the political aisle with very different outlooks.
"She's someone who just intuitively understood the process right off the bat," Tobocman said.
The election was only one of many firsts for Tlaib. The eldest of 14 children of a retired Ford Motor Co. worker and his wife, she was the first in her family to earn a high school diploma. She went on to finish college and law school while helping raise 13 siblings.
"My parents ... are amazing Americans," she said. "They never thought this would ever happen."