EXCLUSIVE: Meet Dalia Al-Aqidi, the Republican Iraqi refugee seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar 

Dalia Al-Aqidi is seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar in the November election. (Twitter/Dalia al-Aqidi)
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Updated 21 January 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Meet Dalia Al-Aqidi, the Republican Iraqi refugee seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar 

  • Dalia Al-Aqidi is challenging the controversial Democrat in November elections
  • Al-Aqidi says people are fed up with Omar's anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric

WASHINGTON: A Muslim immigrant from Iraq hoping to unseat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has accused her rival of embracing anti-Semitism and failing “to love America.”

Speaking to Arab News, Dalia Al-Aqidi said she is running for Congress because Omar is doing “irreparable harm” to both America and Minnesota, the state where her congressional district is located.

Al-Aqidi, who was born in Iraq but sought refuge in the US in 1993, this week launched her candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for the seat that will be voted for in November elections.

She joined a crowded field of candidates to challenge Omar, the high profile and controversial Democrat best known as a member of the “Squad,” four left-wing progressive congresswomen that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

 

 

Omar, 37, a Somali refugee, is favored to win her party’s nomination. She took office in January 2019 after soundly defeating Republican challenger Jennifer Zielinski in 2018.

“On the surface, we look the same. We're both women, refugees, Muslims, but we couldn't be further apart. She sows seeds of division, defending our enemies,” Al-Aqidi declared in a recent online campaign fundraising drive.

“When I became an American citizen, I took an oath to defend the Constitution and defend our country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Al-Aqidi accused Omar of “failing to represent the interests of constituents” of the farm-based 5th district on the Minnesota’s eastern border near Wisconsin. The district has been represented by Democrats since 1963, including Keith Ellison, an African American Muslim now serving as Minnesota’s Attorney General who held the seat from 2007 until 2019.

 

 

Omar has been accused of anti-Semitism for making comments critical of Israel and the Israeli lobby in the US. Last year she sparked anger when she said some members of Congress and the United State exploit “dual citizenship” with Israel to put Israel’s interests above the interests of America.

In February, Omar apologized for asserting that Congress’ support of Israel is driven by pro-Israel monetary contributions. “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” she said in a tweet referring to the American $100 bill.

The district’s Democratic history does not dissuade Al-Aqidi, a former Al Arabiya Op-Ed writer, who has been celebrated by the conservative media as a champion not only of Trump’s conservative policies but also of “family values.”

“I chose to run for Congress because I believe Ilhan Omar is doing irreparable harm to both Minnesota and America. Her consistent anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric are toxic and serve only to gain attention for herself and position herself as a celebrity—she’s not fighting for us, she is fighting for herself, even if that means fighting against us,” Al-Aqidi said.

“I was inspired to launch my campaign because I believe the residents of this district need someone fighting for them, not DC insiders and foreign influences. Our country needs leaders who actually love America.”

Al-Aqidi said Omar needs to be replaced, accusing the incumbent of being a voice of opposition to President Donald Trump and fueling division while supporting America’s enemies.

“Omar has spent her entire time in Washington sowing seeds of division and actively supporting our enemies, while also doing everything she can to prop up her own celebrity status instead of fighting for her constituents,” Al-Aqidi said.

“Even when President Trump has taken action to help her constituents, Omar condemns him simply out of personal hatred. Meanwhile, more scandal and corruption flood out of her office every week. Minnesota’s 5th district deserves someone who is fighting for them, not the radical left in DC.”

Al-Aqidi said her top issues as she enters the first round against five Republican rivals include strengthening both the district’s economy and the country’s national security, describing herself as a champion of Trump’s tough stand on immigration.

“I believe those wishing to do harm to the US are attempting to gain access to the US every day,” said Al-Aqidi, rejecting the assertion that Trump is anti-Muslim and is instead seeking to block extremists and violent criminals from entering the country.

“I support President Trump’s efforts to secure the border and fix our legal immigration system. Meanwhile, Omar wants to open up our borders and allow those same dangerous individuals to freely enter the country.”

Al-Aqidi said that despite the district’s heavy Democratic voting history, voters are embarrassed by Omar’s actions and want change. She said that while Omar “hates” America, she loves her country and its policies, which welcomed her and millions of other Iraqis and Arabs into the country.

“This campaign will be different. First, the people of District 5 have just experienced two years of being embarrassed of Ilhan Omar’s offensive antics. And two years of her ignoring her constituents in order to become a hero of the resistance,” Al-Aqidi said.

“I think voters will want to put a lot of this behind them and support a candidate who actually loves the country she’s elected to represent. The hardworking families of this district need and deserve better, and we’re going to show them that there is a better alternative.

Despite strong criticism of Omar’s political record, Al-Aqidi did not address Omar’s personal controversy, her decision to file for a divorce last November from her husband of 23 years, Ahmed Hirsi. The wife of Omar’s chief political consultant, Tim Mynett, alleged in a divorce filing in August 2019 that her husband engaged in an extra-marital affair with Omar.


Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

Muslims hold congregational prayer, as Italy eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Rome. (Reuters/File)
Updated 07 June 2020

Religious freedom: Italian govt, Muslim representatives sign memorandum

  • New agreement allows for imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates in Italian prisons

ROME: An agreement between the Italian government and the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (Italian: Unione delle Comunità e Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia, UCOII) will allow imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates detained in Italian prisons.

The memorandum of understanding follows an agreement signed last month between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and representatives from Islamic communities in Italy on the reopening of mosques and prayer rooms as part of the country’s ‘Phase 2’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis. The agreement is considered by Muslim representatives as a step toward official recognition of Islam as a religion in Italy.

According to the Italian Ministry of Justice, nearly 10,000 of the 60,000 inmates detained in Italian prisons are foreigners, most of whom are from Morocco, Tunisia and Romania. Latest official figures show that 7,200 inmates are observant Muslims, with 97 considered imams as they guide prayers within jails and 44 saying they converted to Islam during their detention.

In only few Italian jails, however, are Muslim inmates provided with spaces dedicated for prayer, which are not sufficient to meet the demand. By contrast, every prison has a Roman Catholic chapel where religious services are regularly held by priests, most of whom are paid by the Italian state.

The memorandum was signed by Department of Penitentiary Administration Chief Judge Bernardo Petralia and UCOII President Yassine Lafram.

“It implements the principle of religious freedom for all citizens established in the Constitution of the Italian Republic, which guarantees prisoners the right to profess their religious faith also while they are in detention. Considering the increasing multiethnicity of the Italian prison population, it is necessary to allow every religion to be professed in a proper way,” a statement from the Italian Ministry of Justice says.

According to the protocol, UCOII will provide prison administration with a list of people who “perform the functions of imam in Italy” and who are “interested in guiding prayers and worship within prisons nationwide.” The list will also specify at which mosque or prayer room each Imam normally performs his worship. Imams will have to indicate their preference for three provinces where they would be willing to lead prayers for inmates.

As no official agreement or law yet regulates in full the relationship between the Italian state and the Islamic communities in the country, the names of Imams on the list will have to be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior so that they may receive official authorization to perform their duties inside prisons.

Lafram said that he was “extremely satisfied” with this agreement with the Italian State.

“With this new protocol, it will be possible to have imams lead prayers in every prison in Italy. This is a sign of the excellent result obtained thus far for a pilot project we have carried out in the past five years in eight Italian prisons,” Lafram said.

Since 2015, some rooms have been made available to Muslim inmates for prayer, but the congregation had nobody to lead prayers or to preach, except during extraordinary times of the year like Ramadan. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, no one from outside was allowed access to prisons in order to prevent the spread infection. As a consequence, no spiritual assistance was available to Muslim inmates even within the few prisons that had a space for prayer and meditation.

“Spiritual assistance to prisoners is necessarily part of the process of reintegration into civil society, as stated in the Constitution of the Italian Republic,” Lafram told Italian news agency ANSA.

"With this agreement, we aim to promote social rehabilitation of the inmate, but also to…avoid any phenomenon of radicalization, which may be triggered by a condition of general resentment towards society," he added.

Lafram expressed his wish that greater attentiveness to the needs of Islamic communities across Italy would eventually lead to formal recognition of the religion in the country. He thanked Minister of Justice Alfonso Bonafede for “showing no prejudices toward the Islamic communities in Italy."

"This is an important step in the context of an ever-greater collaboration between our religious community and the Italian State in the general interest of the country’s welfare,” he said.