PHOENIX — Deedra Abboud is pushing back against expectations that she will be labeled the "Muslim candidate" as she tries to unseat incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018.
Comments regarding her candidacy are always linked to her faith, she said, adding that "my religion is not something that I can hide nor would I choose to."
Abboud was greeted with applause and cheers Monday as she confronted hateful online comments regarding her Islamic faith and spoke about being American and Muslim during a news conference at the headquarters of Arizona Democrats.
The attorney and activist mentioned her previous calls for more civility in political dialogue and said the online Islamophobic attacks she has faced have become commonplace in the United States.
Flake, a Republican, has tweeted support for Abboud as she dealt with some of the online attacks earlier this month.
He wrote, "Hang in there @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You'll find them."
Abboud tweeted her thanks to Flake for his leadership.
Johnny Martin, a 24-year-old American Muslim wearing a gray T-shirt supporting Abboud's candidacy, said he has thought about running for office but described his fears of being targeted with hate over his faith.
"Seeing how she's handled it has been the part that's made me feel like maybe I will run for office," he said.
Abboud has shown that bullying is a real issue and she has opened up an online conversion on the topic, he said.
Abboud reminded the audience that attacks on candidates' religion aren't new, and she recalled President John F. Kennedy's struggle with the issue when he ran for office as a Catholic.
"Being Muslim in America is about being free," she said — from wearing a headscarf and choosing who to marry to "the freedom to fight ISIS who are not Muslims as well as others who commit terror in the name of Islam."
Abboud is the only announced candidate in the Democratic field for the 2018 primary and is believed to be the first Muslim candidate for statewide office in Arizona's history.
Amena Madbrouk, a 32-year-old American Muslim, said she looks up to Abboud as she fights online hatred.
"What's even more powerful is that it's there and that she still proceeds forward with what she believes she needs to do for herself and for Arizona," Madbrouk said.