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A Nigerian may become first Muslim lawmaker in American state

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Zulfat Suara (C) PHOTO: TWITTER/ZULFATSUARA.COM

A Nigerian-born public accountant Zulfat Suara may be elected as the first Muslim lawmaker in the American state of Tennessee if she wins a runoff election on September 12.

Suara came second among 15 candidates seeking the five at-large seats on the Metro Council election in Nashville, Tennessee’s capital and most populous city.

In the runoff, Suara will be looking to defeat the incumbent Bob Mendes.

“We had a lot of naysaying from the beginning that says I shouldn’t bother to run at large and tonight we proved them wrong,” Suara the Tennessee Holler after the August 1 election.

Suara moved to Tennessee in 1993 when her husband got an opportunity to do a fellowship at Vanderbilt.

She is backed by some big-name Nashville leaders, community members and organisation, including state senator Brenda Gilmore, The Tennessee Tribune, Conexion Americas co-founder Renata Soto and Ketch Secor, singer of Nashville-based folk band Old Crow Medicine Show.

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Although she is getting traction, her campaign faced discrimination and social media attack, most especially because of her religion. But she is optimistic on emerging victorious in the coming runoff election.

“The hate has always been there,” Suara said. “But when I announced my candidacy was when the directed targets started.

“Somebody said they want me eliminated. They see a shooting target.  When a post had about 2000 shares, then I realised this is getting out of hand.”

This is not the first time Suara has faced anti-Muslim rhetoric in Tennessee. But the mother of five has worked to build healthy relationships between the Muslim and non-Muslim community in the state.

She has dealt with it in her work with the Nashville-based American Muslim Advisory Council. Suara currently serves on the board of directors for AMAC, which works to empower Muslims and protect everyone from prejudice and targeted violence.

Suara also founded the Hardeman County Junior Achievement program and received a community leadership award from the FBI director in 2015 for her work with Junior Achievement. She is also a board member for the Metro Action Commission and a past president for the Business and Professional Women of Tennessee group.

She founded an accounting firm that has worked with county governments in Hardeman, Haywood, Lake, and McNairy counties. She is currently the assistant controller of a local university in Nashville.

If she wins in the September election, Suara would be the first Muslim ever elected to public office in Nashville.

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