Keith Ellison is what he is -- the first Muslim elected to Congress, the first African American to represent Minnesota -- while trying not to be too much of what he is. But not too little, either.
Quietly devout, he unrolls his prayer rug in the privacy of his office in the Longworth House Office Building, facing the corner beyond which lies Mecca -- but that is still too Muslim for some…
Without trying too hard, just by being who he is, Ellison has multiple publics. To Arabs overseas, he is evidence that Americans can embrace Islam. To Muslim Americans, he is a role model for political engagement.
To the voters in the urban liberal Minneapolis precincts who actually elect him, well, they seem to like his politics, which he sums up as peace, working-class prosperity, environmental sustainability, civil rights. He won 71 percent of the ballots cast in November for his election to a second term. His district is about 77 percent white, 13 percent black, 5 percent Asian, with Muslims making up an estimated 3 percent. Members of labor unions and people who have Arab surnames are among his more reliable campaign contributors….
"He has been an inspiration to Muslims in general but in particular to young people who have been disheartened by the politics of division and alienation and exclusion after 9/11," says Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "He serves as a good example of what America is and can be."
Presumably, Ellison could adorn his suit with some subtle pin or chain or tie pattern that would signify his religion, but he doesn't. Muslims do not necessarily want a charismatic spokesman who wears his faith on his sleeve.
"His brand of Islam, the way he has conducted himself, really resonates with the majority of Muslim Americans and Arab Americans," says Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, a Detroit-based national network of Arab American community organizations. "That's exactly the way Muslim Americans want to be judged, not as being Muslims but by their contributions to their communities as Americans." (More)