Meet the First Muslim American Woman to Win an Election in North Carolina

Supermajority Education Fund

March 24, 2020

Nida Allam made history earlier this month when she became the first Muslim woman to win an election in North Carolina. 

Allam, 26, was one of five women to win in the Democratic primary for one of the five available seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners, finishing fourth with 39,523 votes. Because no Republican candidates are running for any of the seats, all five are expected to win in November and be sworn in later this year.

Born in Canada to an Indian father and Pakistani mother, Allam moved to the United States with her family in 1999. But it wasn’t until 2015, when Allam experienced a tragic and sudden loss, that she realized Muslim communities need better representation in American politics. That year, Allam’s close friend Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha was killed alongside her husband Deah Barakat and sister Razan Abu-Salha by a neighbor in what she and many others describe as a hate crime. 

“That sort of triggered me to get more involved because I realized that our community’s voices weren’t being heard,” said Allam. She said she was particularly troubled with how the crime was described by the community and the media as a dispute over parking rather than as a targeted hate crime. “I realized that we needed to become more involved in all levels of government,” she said.

Allam says her background also shaped the way she views government — specifically in that she’s seen working-class and immigrant Durham families feel left out of the political process. “My focus has been creating spaces within the party for marginalized communities and voices,” Allam told Supermajority News.

As a member of the County Board of Commissioners, Allam says she plans to work on making the commission — which manages the county’s budget for public services like the sheriff’s department, local schools, and health and human services — more accessible to working people. One way to do this, said Allam, is to change when and where the commission meets. “Because county commissioner meetings happen either after 7 pm or sometimes during the day, people who are working parents and have jobs or are in school can’t attend,” she noted.

While Allam did not set out to be a role model for other young Muslims when she began her campaign, she says she has been heartened by the community’s response to her campaign. One moment at her local mosque stands out to her in particular. “One mom came up to me and said, ‘Are you Nida from the signs?’” Allam recalled. When Allam confirmed she was the woman featured in a silhouette in her hijab on her campaign signs, the woman rushed to call her two elementary-school-aged daughters over. “They began asking me about the logo and started talking about their aspirations. It was nice to show young Muslim kids they could be whatever they wanted to be.”