November 8, 2006
First Muslim elected to the US Congress
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Keith Ellison, a Democratic candidate from Minnesota’s 5th District, Tuesday created history when he became the first Muslim to be elected to the US Congress.
Ellison got 136,061 or 56% votes while his rival, Republican Party candidate, Alan Fine, received only 52,263 or 21% votes. Independent candidate Ms. Tammy Lee also got 21% or 51,456 votes.
Voters responded to his liberal message calling for peace, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and universal health care. In a victory message to his voters, Ellison said that he made history because he showed that a candidate can run a 100% positive campaign and prevail, even against tough opposition.
He said: “We showed that we are stronger when we build bridges between communities rather than trying to divide and conquer. He added that he was working for an America where everybody counts, where everybody matters and where peace is our guiding principle.
American Muslim Voice Executive Director, Samina Faheem Sundas, welcoming the election of Ellison said that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have both heightened prejudice against Muslims and spurred Muslims to be more politically active in hopes of countering that prejudice. "There are millions of Muslims in this country. It shouldn't have taken this long to elect one to Congress," she added.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad while congratulating Keith Ellison on his election thanked American Muslim voters for turning out at the polls in Minnesota and nationwide to support candidates of either major party who address their concerns. Awad said the results of Tuesday’s mid-term elections show that American Muslims are stepping up their political participation nationwide.
This election should indicate to the Muslim community that our vote counts, said the Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati. "The only way towards success in American society is by civic engagement and political participation." Marayati pointed out that "the effectiveness of this campaign was due to Ellison's ability to unite labor, minority communities and bring in people of all religions."
Ellison, 43, who embraced Islam when he was studying at college, is a defense lawyer and Minnesota State Assembly member since 2003.
Although his district was considered a safe Democratic one but he faced bitter campaign attacks on his connection to the Muslim community. The Star Tribune newspaper said his GOP opponent's "hateful attempt to tie Ellison and his party to Islamic extremism" was "reprehensible." In an editorial endorsing Ellison, the Star Tribune noted: "The real drama in this race is the way Republican Alan Fine has discredited his own campaign with overwrought attacks on Ellison."
Ellison bills himself as a moderate Muslim who wants to build coalitions with all religions and races. He's won the support of the National Jewish Democratic Council and a prominent Minneapolis Jewish newspaper, even though his main opponent, Republican Alan Fine, was Jewish.
The Congressional Quarterly quoted him as saying that he wants to help others understand that Muslims have much to contribute to America, while Muslims themselves should know they are "welcome to the table of American politics."
The Rev. Jackson, one of America's best known civil rights, religious and political figures, and local notables joined Keith Ellison to rally volunteers for the final push to victory.
His campaign generated excitement among the seven-million-strong American Muslim community. He visited Florida and California – with large concentration of Muslim population – to garner support for his campaign. The Council on American-Islamic Relations collected about $400,000 in a fundraiser for Ellison.
Ellison won the Democratic primary in the state's 5th Congressional District last September in part by bringing new Muslim voters into a coalition that drew, among others, Minneapolis' black, Jewish, and gay and lesbian communities.
Commenting on Ellison’s victory in primary, the American Muslim Task Force, an umbrella organization of American Muslims, said: “This victory has eradicated two stereotypes: one against Muslims, that cannot they work and succeed in democratic setup and the other against the United States, that it is not a tolerant society.”
The Newsweek reported recently that America's estimated five to seven million Muslims are nearly invisible when it comes to holding office. Currently, the highest-ranking Muslim public official is Larry Shaw, a North Carolina state senator. In 2004, Ferial Masry, a Saudi-born woman lost her bid for congress in California. Also from California, Palestine-born Maad Abu-Ghazalah made two unsuccessful congressional bids in 2002 and 2004. Pakistani-American Syed Rifat Mahmood, also from California, made an unsuccessful bid for congress in 2002 on a Republican ticket.
During the election campaign, Ellison was asked how he could make a difference as one of 435 representatives in the US House. He would "find common ground," Ellison told them, by reaching out to other parties, as he did during the two terms in the Minnesota state legislature.
U.S. voters reject Islam-bashing, profiling of Muslims
Meanwhile, candidates who were vocal supporters of profiling the Muslims and Arabs lost elections in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Republican candidate for Illinois' 17th Congressional District Andrea Zinga said: "Profiling doesn't bother me if we are profiling the people who. . .have caused the outrages against our nation and caused the deaths of American citizens. . .We're talking about Mideastern men."
In Pennsylvania, Sen. Rick Santorum lost his seat in the Senate after targeting so-called "Islamic fascism" during his campaign. Santorum even linked the Islamic concept of Jihad to Nazism when he said: "Mein Kampf means struggle; jihad means struggle."
In Wisconsin, 3rd Congressional District GOP candidate Paul Nelson suggested looking for anyone who is "wearing a turban and his name is Muhammad" when he was questioned about his call for profiling of Muslims.
And in Florida, both gubernatorial candidates repudiated anti-Muslim remarks made by supporters during the campaign.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine, the American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com