NC’s First Elected Muslim Woman Hopes to Hold the Door Open 

Nida Allam

When she was elected to local office in 2020, Nida Allam became the first Muslim woman to win any elected office in North Carolina's history. (Image via Facebook)

By Michael McElroy

March 30, 2022

When you’re the first to do something, it’s hard to find a mentor. Whoever follows Durham’s Nida Allam won’t have that problem.

Being the first can be difficult, which makes it all the more necessary. 

Nida Allam, a Durham County Commissioner, is the first Muslim woman to ever hold elected office in North Carolina, in any capacity. So it can be hard to find experienced mentors for guidance on her political path. 

“We haven’t had a Muslim woman elected that I could reach out to and ask for advice,” Allam told the Duke Chronicle last November. 

That’s one challenge the next Muslim woman elected in North Carolina will not have.

Allam is running for US Congress in the 4th District, which covers all of Orange, Durham, Alamance, Person and Granville counties. US Rep. David Price, a longtime Democratic Congressman who currently represents the district, is not seeking re-election. 

The Democratic primary is May 17, and Allam faces a crowded field, including NC state Sen. Valerie Foushee; Ashley Ward, a senior policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; and Clay Aiken, the American Idol singer. Courtney Geels, a registered nurse, and Robert Thomas, a residential real estate appraiser, will face off in the Republican primary, and the winners will meet each other in the November general election.

Allam, who grew up in the Triangle’s Brier Creek area, is the daughter of Pakistani and Indian immigrants. She graduated from NC State Universityin 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in sustainable materials. 

But it’s what happened a few months before graduation, she has written, that “changed her life forever.”

Lives Lost Too Soon 

Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, close friends of Allam, were shot to death in their Chapel Hill apartment by a man with a long history of expressing anti-Muslim views. The shooter was sentenced to three life terms in the murders, but was not charged with a federal hate crime.

The killings started her thinking of a new path, she said.

“We’re their friends. How do we carry on their legacy? That was the one thing that their parents wanted, for their legacy not to die,” Allam told Cardinal & Pine in 2020. 

First, she joined Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign as a local organizer, then became the campaign’s political director for the Carolinas, New York and New Jersey. She’s also served on Durham’s Mayor Council for Women and was elected to the NC Democratic Party’s Executive Council. She was the first Muslim to reach the state party’s executive level.

Across her roles, she’s advocated for living-wage legislation and pushed for universal Pre-K.

Being the first Muslim woman to hold public office in North Carolina is not history, she said, but a map for the future. Historical obstacles are at their core unsustainable. 

“People have these stereotypes that Muslim women are sheltered or that they’re oppressed because they wear hijab,” Allam said. “For me, leading as a Muslim means I take the core values of caring for my community into action. That’s what we should want from our politicians.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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