Muslim Congressional Candidate Seeks to Distance Himself from Controversy

September 11, 2006

Source: The Washington Post

On September 11, 2006 The Washington Post reported, "Keith Ellison is a Democrat running for an open House seat in a heavily Democratic district. But what once looked like a cakewalk has turned into a bruising campaign in which many facts are disputed but a central one is not: If he wins, he will be the first Muslim elected to Congress. Before he can make history, Ellison must capture Tuesday's hotly contested Democratic primary in Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, which consists of the Minneapolis side of the Twin Cities and an inner ring of suburbs. Whoever gets the Democratic nomination is expected to sweep to victory in November to succeed Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D), who is retiring after 28 years in the House. Ellison, 43, is a two-term state legislator. He prays toward Mecca five times a day and says he has not eaten pork or had a drink of alcohol since he converted to Islam as a 19-year-old student at Wayne State University in Detroit. When speaking at mosques or to members of Minneapolis's large Somali immigrant population, he opens with 'Salaam aleikum,' Arabic for 'Peace be with you.' Other than that, he seldom refers to his religion on the campaign trail, unless asked. 'I'm a Muslim. I'm proud to be a Muslim. But I'm not running as a Muslim candidate,' Ellison said during a break between a commemoration of Hurricane Katrina and an appearance at a public housing project. 'I'm running as a candidate who believes in peace and bringing the troops out of Iraq now. I'm running as a candidate who believes in universal, single-payer health care coverage and an increase in the minimum wage' Despite Ellison's desire to focus on the war and the economy, questions about his faith and character have kept him on the defensive."