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Friday, October 21, 2016

Today Weekend Reader brings you My Country, ’Tis Of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future by U.S. Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. In 2010, Representative Ellison joined Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has since been deeply committed to social issues and fighting endlessly on behalf of the middle class. The excerpt below details the day Congressman Ellison made history–when he assumed office in 2007, becoming the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress. 

You can purchase the book here.

January 4, 2007

My right hand was over my heart and my left hand was on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran. Standing with me were my wife, whose mother had immigrated from the Dominican Republic; my mom, a Catholic from Louisiana who can trace her roots to a French aristocrat, an African medicine woman, and Croatian immigrants; my dad, a lifelong Republican and overall contrarian, who could not be more proud; and my older brother Brian, a Baptist minister. Other family huddled all around.

There was so much history, controversy, and pride over this moment: the first Muslim being elected to the U.S. Congress. There was pride from my family and my district. Indeed, there was pride throughout the entire Muslim world; I received calls and even saw headlines from throughout the Muslim world. On the other hand, there was anger and bitterness from some quarters too. On one level, I understood all of these reactions.

On that day, I also recognized that my faith—the practice of my faith in Allah—is fundamentally American. The irony is that this nation was founded by people escaping religious persecution, seeking freedom to worship God in their own ways, however they chose to worship, if they chose to worship. But there was a sentiment in America running counter to that notion of freedom. Every day, Americans—citizens—were being labeled as terrorists, and became targets for violence and other unthinkable acts, simply because of their faith.

I hadn’t originally planned to swear on the Quran. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about it.

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A couple of days before the election, as a favor to the host, I agreed to go on a local Somali public access cable TV show. It was late, and I didn’t expect there to be many viewers outside of a few Somali insomniacs. The interviewer asked me the usual questions about my campaign and my plans to serve the district. Then he asked, “So, if you win the election, will you swear in on the Quran?”

We had been totally focused on getting through the primaries, and then the election and the tasks to be completed once in office, and the swearing-in wasn’t on my mind.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I never thought about it.”

He asked again, “If you win—you can imagine yourself winning, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, imagine yourself standing up there getting ready to be sworn into the United States Congress. What book is your hand placed on?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it a Quran?”

“Yeah, I guess it would be a Quran.”

We moved on to other topics, and I didn’t think much of it until it exploded into a national issue a few days later. Having won the election, what I had said in that interview would become a reality. This sent a lot of people into a frenzy.

Dennis Prager led the charge. He was a syndicated conservative radio talk-show host who wrote an editorial on the website entitled “America, Not Keith Ellison, Decides What Book a Congressman Takes His Oath On.” According to Prager, I was undermining American civilization. He said that I was a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden. My mother, who regularly listened to Prager’s show, was so outraged by what he was saying that she called in to give him a piece of her mind.

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  • charleo1

    I’m recalling back about 5 years ago, a short time after the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency. There was then, and continues to be a surprisingly large number of people on the Right, especially Fundamentalist Christians, who believe Obama to be a secret Muslim. And therefore, it follows, he must have a secret Muslim-y agenda to go along with it. I think it was supposed to go like this. First he would disarm Americans. That accomplished, he would then enact Sharia Law, and appoint himself Supreme Ayatollah for life. And the Liberals? They would all support this, of course. First, because we’re atheist. But mostly because Obama is a fairly young man, and we’re just thinking of all the free, “stuff,” we would get from the government over the next forty years. But I digress. I was remembering what Colin Powell said, when Bob Schieffer ask him about all the anti-Muslim rhetoric going around about Obama, and also about the Islamic community center set to be built close to ground zero, in New York. Powell said, “So what?” “So what if President Obama were a Muslim?” He said, there are thousands of young Muslim men, and women serving their Country, and losing their lives in doing so. Powell comes from a military culture where unit cohesion, not one’s religion, ethnicity, or the color
    of one’s skin determines who they are. They are soldiers in the military of
    the United States of America, period. We as a people could learn a lot from
    our men, and women in uniform in this regard. Certainly a lot more than from politicians like Virgil Goode.

    • CPAinNewYork

      Obama attended a Muslim school in Indonesia called a madrassa, right? Yes? No? There’s an old saying: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” His early development was Muslim. Even when he attended a Christian church as an adult, he joined a congregation led by a virulent racist who hates whites. Obama’s sympathies are with the black Muslims. It’s part of him.

      As to the Muslims in America: I would pass a law that bans that religion. It advocates the violent overthrow of the United States government, just as the Communist Party did when it was outlawed in 1954. Anyone professing adherence to the Muslim religion would be jailed. All Muslim paces of worship would be destroyed.

      • charleo1

        No, Actually Obama first attended a private Catholic school
        in his neighborhood in Jakarta, Then, after returning for a time to live with his maternal grandparents, in Hawaii, while his Mother pursued a degree in anthropology, stateside. Then, he attended a secular, publicly funded school, again in Jakarta Indonesia. Before moving back with his Grandparents for good, But, certainly not a Madrassah, as we’ve come to know the definition. This, single subject institution, funded by mostly Sunni, hard line fundamentalist. That cropped up over the last couple of decades throughout the backward, and impoverished netherlands of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and so on. So it really depends on you, and how fond of this, “bent twig,” mischaracterization of Obama’a early childhood education
        you decide to be. As to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his
        opinions are not one’s I personally agree with. But, he certainly has every Right to express them. And even his anti-American rhetoric, is tempered by his volunteering
        to serve this Country as a Marine. And doing so, by fighting and serving honorably in the jungles of Vietnam. So, people are complicated, and things are seldom either black, or white. I would rather ask about you. Whether it’s more important to be right, or to be engaged in some of the ugliest partisan, and Constitutionally averse language imaginable? And if it is preferable to glean what personal satisfaction you get from such provably false, profundity, among the crowd you feel most comfortable associating with. But, I wouldn’t voice that opinion in mixed company
        if I were you. Unless, being thoroughly embarrassed, is a big turn on. But at the end of the day, this is all about you.

      • Paul Bass

        Wow, are you a bigot or what???

        Muslims have as much right to their religion as you do, you clown, so stop being so blatantly racist….

        • CPAinNewYork

          Today’s Newsday carries on page forty-six yet another expose of al-Qaida terrorist activities in the New York City area. Yet, buffoons like you criticize anyone who questions the loyalty of Muslims in the United States.

          I’ve often advocated federal legislation that outlaws the Muslim religion in the United States. Its practitioners are a clear and present danger to anyone in America and are working to actively overthrow the United States government by violent means.

          We need to emulate Congress’s 1954 legislation, which outlawed the Communist Party. Anyone practicing the Muslim religion must be incarcerated until a Muslim nation agrees to accept them. Further, we must prohibit the entrance of any Muslim into the United States.

          All Muslim properties, especially mosques, must be seized and any reference to the Muslim religion removed.

          • Paul Bass

            Yes, you ARE an idiot! Muslims DO NOT equal al-Qaida terrorist!

            True Muslims practice a PEACEFUL religion, having NOTHING to do with al-Qaida! Did you not even read this article? Islam IS a legitimate religion in America, did you not notice that Keith Ellison took his oath on Jefferson’s Quran? So Thomas Jefferson was a Muslim terrorist?

            Your simple-minded bigotry is showing…

          • BillP


            Good reply to CPA. Using his logic shouldn’t Christianity be outlawed since Timothy McVeigh committed one of the most horrible terrorist attacks when he bombed the building in Oklahoma City and killed many people including a number of young children.

          • CPAinNewYork

            No. McVeigh did what he did because he was a psychotic.

            The Muslim suicide bombers do what they do because they’re a pack of religious fanatics who so resent our support of Israel, and have no sane response to our policy that they believe fanaticism and violence is their only viable response.

            They are a miserable people who must be stopped in any way possible, like a pack of rabid animals.

          • Paul Bass

            Sorry CPA, you’re the only one acting like a pack of rabid animals…

          • CPAinNewYork

            After all the Muslim atrocities, you still consider Islam a religion of peace? You are either a Muslim or your brain has gone soft. Your reference to “true Muslims” disgusts me.

            Islam is a religion of hate practiced by a medieval people who never advanced to the twenty-first century.

          • Paul Bass

            After all the Christian atrocities, you still consider Christianity a religion of peace?
            All religions have done bad things in the past, does that mean we shouldn’t have religion?
            If you talk to Jews in WWII Germany, they would say that Christians are a religion of hate…

          • CPAinNewYork

            The Christian atrocities occurred centuries ago. The Muslim atrocities are occurring NOW. That’s why they must be stopped NOW. What’s your point? Because atrocities were perpetrated against a religious group, the target group has a free pass to commit atrocities as retribution?

            As to the Holocaust: The Nazis were athiests. While they were gentiles, their atrocities were not committed in the name of any Christian denomination. In Israel today, according to an author named Max Blumenthal in a book titled “Goliath”, the Israeli Jews are committing horrific acts, including the bombing of helpless people in Gaza.

  • jointerjohn

    Christianity and Islam share one characteristic that encourages intolerance. Both profess to be the one true and only religion and that all others are false. It makes both of them dangerous in the hands of some people who turn that into a sense of divinely sanctioned superiority. Any religion, philosophy or practice that denounces all others is dangerous and should not be trusted.

    • CPAinNewYork

      I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don’t agree with your inference that some religions are tolerant of others.

      A religion believes that it alone has all the answers. If it allows for dissent from its tenets, it’s not a religion. it’s a philosophy.

      As for “trusting” religions: I don’t “trust” any religion. Nor do I trust any government.