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The race for first Muslim woman in US Congress

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Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is running in the Democratic primary for US Congress in Massachusetts\' First District, meets with her staff at campaign headquarters in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

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04th-Aug-2018       
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AFP, Springfield :
It's an incongruous sight, a woman in a salmon pink hijab standing on a Massachusetts traffic median, waving at oncoming cars and asking perfect strangers to vote her into Congress.
"Hey how are you? Good to see you!" hollers Tahirah Amatul-Wadud at a male pedestrian. A few cars beep their horns, the odd driver zaps down his window to say hello. Quite a few drive past, seemingly oblivious.
Amatul-Wadud is a mother of seven, a lawyer, a community activist and a Muslim, who rises before dawn, prays five times a day and fasts during Ramadan.
Now aged 44, she faces the biggest hurdle of her life: asking a majority white constituency, where Catholics are the biggest religious group, to make her the first Muslim woman elected into Congress. But for her it's about policy, not religion. It's about better representing and improving lives in western Massachusetts, an area suffering from higher than average unemployment, where many work two jobs just to make ends meet.
"I don't always talk about religion because I don't look to lead or serve from a religious prespective," she tells AFP at her campaign headquarters just outside Springfield.
She says her goals are secular, but her faith is "where I find my core strength."
Indefatigable, armed with a warm smile and a lawyer's mind, Amatul-Wadud is part of a groundswell of women and progressive Democrats running for office this year, motivated at least in part by opposition to President Donald Trump.
She's one of five candidates vying to become the first Muslim woman in Congress in November mid-term elections - 12 years after Minnesota's Keith Ellison became the first Muslim in the US House of Representatives.
If she's successful, she would also become her district's first woman and first African American in Congress.
Except it's a long shot. Her opponent in the September 4 Democratic primary is Richard Neal, who has served in Congress since 1989. She has raised a total of $72,000 compared to his reported $3 million.
When she moved to Springfield aged nine, he was the city mayor.
Now she wants his job, championing progressive causes such as Medicare for all, affordable education and wider access to high-speed internet, and eschewing donations from corporate and special interests.
Her team claims to have nearly 300 volunteers as they build a grass-roots campaign, knocking door to door to hear people's problems.
If she beats Neal, she will repeat the triumph of 28-year-old political novice, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who trounced a Democrat grandee in a New York primary by running a similarly progressive and insurgent ticket.
That win gave her campaign a huge shot in the arm, boosting contributions.  "It was wonderful," Amatul-Wadud tells AFP. "If she could win, then hope is possible, here in our home."

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