First Muslim woman leads prayer on floor of Wisconsin Assembly

Published: February 14, 2016
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Janan Najeeb Photo: Journal Sentinel

Janan Najeeb Photo: Journal Sentinel

A Muslim woman in Wisconsin offered prayers on the floor of the state assembly on Thursday in what is thought to be a first for the US state.

Janan Najeeb, a prominent member of Wisconsin’s Muslim community and a longtime participant in local interfaith efforts, was invited by Milwaukee Democratic Representative Mandela Barnes to offer the opening prayer.

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“I’m honoured and excited. I’m also a little bit surprised because, based on what the clerk has sent, it’s safe to say I’m the first Muslim to do so,” Najeeb, who is the president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and founder of the Islamic Resource Center, said.

Najeeb offered a general prayer as well as two citations from the Holy Quran that speak about the value of diversity. They are roughly translated as: “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know.”

“We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.”

She added that she hoped lawmakers “will realise that Muslims are part of the fabric of our society…and we are adding our story to the stories of the many communities that came before us and created this country.”

Barnes, who considers Najeeb a friend, said he invited her in an effort to promote diversity in what is a predominantly white, Christian body and to present a more balanced picture of Muslims than that presented in much of the current political rhetoric.

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“There is just so much for us to get over in terms of our fears. Muslims want the same things everyone else wants — to live peacefully, enjoy themselves and just live and breathe,” Barnes said.

Wisconsin Assembly Clerk Patrick Fuller’s office informed that they have had “everybody — the Dalai Lama, Indian tribes…” but longtime lawmakers said they could not recall ever hearing a Muslim prayer in the Legislature.

Islamophobic attacks against Muslims have increased considerably after last year’s Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings. Republic presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Governor Scott Walker also drew outrage from Muslims and interfaith leaders when he declared during his 2015 presidential campaign that there are only a “handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam.”

This article originally appeared on Journal Sentinel.

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