Rep. Keith Ellison: Being a Muslim in Congress Has Gotten Better

February 10, 2014

 

Ellison called Muslims in America the “scapegoat du jour.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., was the first Muslim elected to Congress and it’s not always been an easy ride. Monday, on book tour duty for his new tome, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” he spoke at the Center for American Progress about being a member of a religion that’s often treated as the “scapegoat du jour.”

For instance, even before he won election, Ellison became the ire of the far-right when he said, on a late night Somali-language program in his district, that he would be sworn in on the Quran.

“It set off a firestorm,” Ellison recalled.

Ellison won his race and found out early on that he had allies in his own party on Capitol Hill. On swearing-in day, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Ellison to give the prayer before the freshmen class.

“I didn’t know her from a can of paint, but I knew all that I needed to know about her from that moment on,” Ellison said.

Several more of Ellison’s Democratic colleagues bonded with him over their own swearing-in tomes.

“Later in the day of the swearing in, a little lady, about 5-foot-2, curly blonde hair – Debbie Wasserman Schultz – you all know her,’” Ellison said. “[She said], ‘Welcome to Congress and by the way, I want you to know when I swore in, I swore in with a copy of the Tanakh, which is Jewish scripture.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., also approached Ellison to tell the Minnesota Democrat he had used a Bible written in the Gullah dialect.

Another memorable moment came when Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called a Muslim “radicalization” hearing in March 2011 before the House Homeland Security Committee. Ellison tried to dissuade King from holding the hearing, but when that didn’t work Ellison decided to testify instead. He made a piece of his testimony about Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old American Muslim, who perished on 9/11 trying to save his fellow citizens.

“I started talking about this boy and his heroism and my throat started to get thick, my tongue started to thicken up, I could feel warm tears start rolling down my face,” Ellison said. (Basically, he pulled a House Speaker John Boehner, who has a penchant for crying.)

US News: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2014/02/10/rep-keith-ellison-being-a-muslim-in-congress-has-gotten-better

Department of Defense celebrates Iftar meal at the Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 15, 2013) — The Department of Defense celebrated its 15th Iftar meal, July 12, at the Pentagon.

Attending the event were senior defense leaders, White House and congressional staffers, foreign dignitaries, defense attachés, imams, Gold Star families, and Muslims who work in the defense community.

“The month of Ramadan focuses on a lot of things,” said Col. Thomas Waynick, the Pentagon chaplain. “Among them, focusing one’s heart away from worldly activities, the cleansing of one’s soul to free it from harmful impurities, and the practices of self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy, especially with the less fortunate, and thus encouraging generosity and charity. These things are common to many of the world’s religions.”

In 1999, the Pentagon Chaplain’s office first hosted such a dinner to show solidarity with and support for the Islamic community. They have been doing so each year since.

Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Muslim, was the guest speaker at this year’s Iftar meal.  he lawmaker spoke about serving humanity. Serving others by tutoring, visiting shut-ins, volunteering time to feed the homeless and building relationships with people less fortunate will help change America, Ellison said.

 

Those in attendance at the Pentagon Iftar were not all Muslim. Steven Redmann, executive director of U.S. Army Headquarters Services, said that though he is not Muslim, he was able to learn from the congressman’s message about service, and find common themes that aligned with his Catholic faith.

At the Pentagon, approximately 30-40 Department of Defense personnel make up a core group of Muslim worshipers, Waynick said.

Across the Army, there are more than 1,600 Muslims, said Lt. Col. Claude Brittian, the deputy Pentagon chaplain. He said that number is not exact, however, because many Muslims do not declare their religion for fear of being ostracized.

Conversations: Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, discusses the current crisis in Libya and Muslims in America

As the first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison(D-Minn.) is often a go-to person for Muslim Americans, Muslim leaders overseas and others focused on the intersection of Islam and government. He has served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Democracy Partnership, which works with lawmakers in emerging democracies. Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein asked Ellison about some of the Islam-related stories in the news.

Q: How has the post-Sept. 11 decade changed these views?

A: The people I talk to are as concerned about anti-Muslim hate as much as ever before. One thing they commonly complain about is, if you make a slur against blacks you’ll be in trouble. But if you say some crazy stuff about Muslims no one cares. I think it’s actually gotten worse. I think in 2001 we were in a better place than we are now. Then, there were people who didn’t like Muslims, but now there is an industry to pump out negativity. You have [Republican congresswoman] Michele Bachmann [of Minnesota] going around saying the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the government. You can count on something like this every two months.

●Serves on the House Financial Services Committee; House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee.

●Co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 112th Congress; is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

●Before Congress: practiced law and was a community activist; also served two terms in the Minnesota State House of Representatives.

● Hometown: Detroit.

● Earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990.

●Is the father of four children.

Rep. King Finds a New Target

THE FURY surrounding New York Representative Peter King’s March hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-American communities was an embarrassment for the House and its Homeland Security Committee. Not a single meaningful recommendation came from the politically charged investigation. The only memorable moment was when Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, broke down as he spoke of a falsely accused Muslim New York City paramedic who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, King will hold a second hearing that will look at the radicalization of Muslims in US prisons. It lacks the drama and emotion of the first. Indeed, the silence surrounding it is deafening. Likely, after the death of Osama bin Laden, it is more difficult for King to whip up fears that the Obama administration is going soft on terrorism.

But, as with King’s first hearing, there is a germ of truth in his concerns, if not his intensive focus on Muslim-Americans. Radicalization is clearly a growing problem in prisons. A 2008 study by the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice showed a link between prison gangs, radicalization, and violence. Many corrections officers are now trained to identify prisoners who adopt extreme views.

In a statement released after King’s hearing, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said:

“Reasonable people must question why no official with the Federal Bureau of Prisons testified today at Representative King’s agenda-driven hearing. This omission is yet another reason interest in King’s show trials of the American Muslim community diminished significantly after his first hearing.

“The one witness who has conducted extensive academic research on the issue was Professor Bert Useem of Purdue University, whose research was funded by institutions affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. In his written testimony, Useem concluded, ‘My core argument, then, is that U.S. prisons are not systematically generating a terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland.’

On ballots this November: More Muslim American women

While many things have changed for Muslim Americans since the September 11th terrorist attacks, one remarkable and positive change is currently unfolding – more Muslims, particularly Muslim women, are running for political office.

Agha Saeed, founder of the American Muslim Alliance, has tracked Muslim candidates for over a decade. Before September 11th, less than 5 percent of the candidates were women, and now one in three Muslim candidates is a woman.

On local levels, there is Jamilah Nasheed, a female Missouri Democratic state representative vying for re-election. Ferial Masry is facing a tough state assembly race in a heavily conservative district near Los Angeles.

While dozens of Muslim Americans hold seats on city councils and are busy in Washington, only two serve in Congress – Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana. “9/11 had a big impact. We kind of came to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines… was not going to be a successful strategy, and that people needed to get involved,” said Ellison.

See full text articles:

Associated Press

International Herald Tribune

Ellison to Young Muslim-Americans: Participate in Democracy

Twenty-five young women and men attended the second annual Young Muslim-American Leaders Summit-DC, to speak with national political leaders about they role they can play in shaping future American policies. The event was organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who’s executive director Salam Al-Marayati said that we need more Muslims in civil society in America; we need more Muslims in government and media; that is the only way to be part of the solution. Among the attendees, was Congressman Keith Ellison – the first Muslim ever elected to US Congress. Ellison urged young Muslim-Americans not to see themselves as outcasts or victims because of the surge in surveillance, airport interrogations, and ethnic profiling. He stated that in order to change policy, quietude and indifference won’t affect policy makers, but an active, honest, and sincere commitment to advocacy would create active change.

Roundtable on Islam in U.S. Politics

A representative of the Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR) took part in a roundtable discussion on _Islam in American Politics’ in Washington DC. CAIR’s Nihad Awad joined former Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, and Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, John Esposito, and others to deepen the dialogue on critical religious and political issues. Georgetown University and the World Economic Forum sponsored the discussion. It marked the official US launch of the first Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of the Dialogue.

Second Muslim elected to congress

On Tuesday, Indiana voters elected Andre Carson to Congress, making Carson the second Muslim elected to Congress in U.S. history. Andre Carson is the grandson of the late Democratic Representative Julia Carson, and was elected to serve the balance of her term in the House of Representatives; Julia died in December 2007, after serving 11 years in the district. Andre, who beat the republican candidate with 52% of the vote compared to his opponent’s 44%, converted to Islam about a decade ago. He becomes the second of that faith to be elected, the first being Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, also a Democrat.

Convert to Islam running for congress

A convert to Islam is an election victory away from becoming just the second Muslim elected to congress. Andre Carson, a political newcomer, is the Democratic nominee in a March 11th special election to succeed his late grandmother, representing Indiana’s 7th district. If Carson wins the district, he would join Keith Ellison as the only Muslims ever elected to congress in the United States. Carson believes his religious identity does not hurt him politically, even while American Muslims struggle to gain acceptance and validity in political representation. ”I think it’s more of an advantage,” Carson said. ”It’s a platform to address ignorance. It’s a platform to really show that this campaign is about inclusion of all races and religions.

U.S. Muslims Hail Ramadan Resolution as Symbol of Acceptance

by Omar Sacirbey U.S. Muslims are welcoming a congressional resolution commemorating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as an important, if symbolic, sign that they are gaining acceptance in America. Still, conservatives critics say the resolution is an exercise in political correctness. Congress regularly passes resolutions commemorating holidays such as Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. But the Oct. 2 vote marks the first time Congress has passed a resolution recognizing Ramadan, which ends Oct. 12 this year. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and co-sponsored by 30 other representatives, including Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Congress’s first elected Muslim.