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

ellisonEllison called Muslims in America the "scapegoat du jour."

By Nikki Schwab, US News

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. (Read more)

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