Rashida Tlaib was sworn in to Congress yesterday wearing a traditional Palestinian dress, becoming one of the first two Middle Eastern Muslim women to enter the US’ lower house.
Tlaib wore her thobe (a traditional embroidered dress worn by Palestinian women) to yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony in a proud display of her family’s heritage. Tlaib had hinted that she would wear the dress for the occasion, posting a picture of the thobe – which was embroidered by her mother – on Instagram in December with the words: “Sneak peek: This is what I am wearing when I am sworn into Congress. #PalestinianThobe #ForMyYama”.
As the ceremony took place on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill, the hashtag #TweetYourThobe was trending on Twitter, encouraging Palestinian women around the world to share pictures of their own traditional gowns. The hashtag was conceived by novelist Susan Muaddi Darraj, who decided to counter racist comments and criticisms posted on Tlaib’s December Instagram post.
According to the New York Times (NYT), Darraj started a private Facebook group which grew to 8,000 members in two weeks, before the hashtag finally went public yesterday. Darraj told NYT: “I’ve just been tearing up all day looking at some of these pictures […] It’s just extraordinary, and it’s a visual testament to the relationships between mothers and daughters that we have in our culture, and I think other people can relate to that.”
In an interview with fashion magazine, Elle published yesterday, Tlaib explained her decision to wear the gown:
Throughout my career in public service, the residents I have had the privilege of fighting for have embraced who I am, especially my Palestinian roots. This is what I want to bring to the United States Congress, an unapologetic display of the fabric of the people in this country. This is why I decided to wear a thobe.
Tlaib added: “As a young girl, I watched my mother hand stitch thobes while sitting on the floor with a lamp at her side […] Just thinking about it brings up so many memories of my mother and how proud she was of being Palestinian.”
Tlaib’s mother hails from Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, a village west of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, while her father originates from Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem. The family later moved to Detroit, where Tlaib was born and raised. After a decade-long political career, she was elected in November to become a Democratic Congresswoman for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District.
Tlaib was joined in Congress yesterday by Ilhan Omar – a member of the Democrat-affiliated “Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party” (DFL) – who was also elected to Congress in November. Omar was born in Somali capital Mogadishu, where she lived until the early 1990s when her family was forced to flee the country’s civil war. She spent four years living in a refugee camp in Kenya until her family moved to the USA.
Shortly after being elected, Omar expressed qualified support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, with her campaign team saying: “Ilhan believes in and supports the BDS movement, and has fought to make sure people’s right to support it isn’t criminalised. She does, however, have reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution.”