Florida Politics

She's been cursed at, rained on. Can she become the first Muslim in the state House?

Using an umbrella to keep the summer rain from soaking her hijab, Saima Farooqui peered down at a list of registered Democrats near her Coconut Creek home.

As she looked back up, her list growing limp in the drizzle, she realized her 13-year-old son, Mohammad, who moonlights as her unofficial campaign aide, was trotting ahead toward a house he had flagged earlier, one politically blue enough to potentially help his mother become the first Muslim to serve in Florida’s Legislature.

The election of President Donald Trump — who during his campaign called for a travel ban against seven Muslim-majority nations and for the monitoring of mosques — motivated Farooqui to advocate for more Muslim representation in public office.

In what has been called a “Muslim blue wave” — or a Muslim-led referendum on Trump's kind of rhetoric — over 150 American Muslims across the nation have filed to run for public office this year, according to the national Muslim civil rights group Emgage.

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Florida House District 96 candidate Saima Farooqui speaks to Maria Cardenas, 20, of Coconut Creek on Sunday, June 10. Farooqui went door-to-door speaking to potential voters. Ellis Rua erua@miamiherald.com

“I feel like the demographics have changed but the representation has not,” Farooqui said Sunday afternoon before she and her family walked the district knocking on doors. “That’s where I really felt a strong necessity of going out and doing something.”

Since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began in May, Farooqui has been fasting and campaigning. The first-time candidate is hoping to earn a spot in the Florida House of Representatives representing District 96, which covers a large swath of Broward County that includes Parkland, home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

She attempted to qualify by petition -- she needed 1,083 -- but only 685 of those were verified, so she intends to pay the qualifying fee.

For the most part, she says, the strangers she has met throughout the district are friendly and supportive of her run. But the reactions to her traditional headscarf and her slight accent haven’t been all good. One of the last times she knocked on the door of a conservative couple in her Broward County district — she hesitates now as she walks by homes with pickup trucks and oversized American flags — they kicked her off the property and nearly let their dog loose, her husband said. Farooqui fled running.

“You have to have a strong heart,” her son said. “You have to deal with people getting in your face for no reason.”

There were an estimated 3.4 million Muslims living in the U.S. in 2017, up from 2.3 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Saima Farooqui, who is running for Broward's District 96 seat in the state House of Representatives, is shown canvassing in a neighborhood in Coconut Creek on Sunday, June 10, 2018. Ellis Rua erua@miamiherald.com

But just two Muslims currently serve in the 535-member U.S. Congress. In Florida, Muslim candidates have run for spots on the Legislature but never won, Farooqui said.

Khurrum Wahid, a co-chairperson of Emgage, said he was encouraged with the engagement and ambition he's seen from Muslim candidates this year. Even if some face long odds, showing voters that Muslim values align with American values is important.

"It's been a slow process coming from post-9/11, when the community felt very unwanted and very lost in terms of its place in America," he said. "I'm really encouraged by what I'm seeing now. I think a lot of it is in response to the 2016 election."

Farooqui, whose campaign is young and lean, works as a computer technician for Geek Squad and has so far raised $1,583 via campaign donations. On Sunday, a little boy she met tried giving her a few quarters at his front door. She declined politely.

She currently serves as the secretary of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus of Florida and as the vice president of the Coconut Creek Democratic Club.

Saima Farooqui, who is running for Broward's District 96 seat in the state House of Representatives, campaigns in a neighborhood in Coconut Creek on Sunday, June 10, 2018. Ellis Rua erua@miamiherald.com

While Trump’s words and policy proposals certainly jolted her and the Muslim community as a whole, it wasn’t until the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that Farooqui decided to run for public office.

School safety is a major pillar of her platform, which also mentions “common sense gun control” and anti-discrimination policies. She hopes to face off against incumbent Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs, the former mayor of Broward County, in the Aug. 28 open primary. There are no Republicans running for the seat.

Jacobs has raised $26,639 as of the current filing period, and is certainly the favorite in this bout. Her political contributors include Walmart and NextEra Energy, the corporate parent of Florida Power & Light.

Jacobs and Farooqui had breakfast together a few weeks ago and expressed admiration for each other.

“She seems like a very nice person who was gracious and even told me that she and her husband and her friend all had voted for me and were very supportive of the things I have done while in office,” Jacobs told the Miami Herald. “I believe it is fair to say that we both respect this process and recognize that by no means is this ‘my’ seat and that it belongs to the voters and the people who live here.”

Farooqui's canvassing crew consists of her son, college-aged daughter and husband.

They walk rain or shine and have faith that their mobilization of Muslims in the area may help her over the hump. A friend of the family serves as “de-facto” campaign manager, although Farooqui says everyone helps.

Her son, for example, put his technological prowess to work designing mom’s campaign flier and organizing voter’s addresses in an Excel spreadsheet.

“This is what America is about,” she said.

Muhammad Farooqui, 13, the son of Saima Farooqui, who is running in Broward's District 96 race in the state House of Representatives, reviews a list of registered Democrats in a neighborhood in Coconut Creek on Sunday, June 10, 2018. Ellis Rua erua@miamiherald.com

Corrections: This story incorrectly stated that Farooqui had qualified by petition, and that her campaign raised $100. She intends to pay a qualifying fee to run, and she has raised $1,583.