TheGrio’s 100: Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s first Muslim congressman

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“Muslim” and “Congressman” were mutually exclusive terms before Minnesota elected Keith Ellison in 2006, when he also became the state’s first African-American representative. Though the Democrat downplays the role of religion in his drive for office, Ellison has become a strong advocate for Islamic causes on a national level; following his precedent, four Islamic officials have won Congressional seats since Ellison swore in — using a Quran.

Minnesota Democrat has leading role for liberals

In 2007, Ellison became the first congressman to place his hand over a Quran instead of a Bible at a swearing in ceremony. Thomas Jefferson once owned the same Quran, a loan from the Library of Congress, and a symbol, Ellison hopes, that Americans have long sought wisdom and knowledge from many esteemed cultures and peoples.

Keith Ellison is making history … diversifying American politics. Since taking office, Ellison has traveled on Congressional good will missions to Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia where he met with Middle Eastern prime ministers and presidents on behalf of the U.S. He also journeyed to Mecca on a personal pilgrimage.

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Ellison’s travels deepen his ability to represent his faith in and on behalf of the U.S. government, but the Detroit native sees this more as a privilege and responsibility, not a legacy. “I seldom think about my place in history,” Ellison told theGrio last month. “I just serve the best I can.”

What’s next for Ellison?

While Ellison seeks to make public services more effective for all his constituents, he aims to tackle larger public service questions, including “organizing on peace, working class prosperity, environmental sustainability, civil and human rights.”

In his own words …

When then-CNN correspondent Glenn Beck asked Ellison “to prove [he was] not working with our enemies,” the congressman replied, “The people of the Fifth Congressional District know that I have a deep love and affection for my country. There’s no one who is more patriotic than I am. And so, you know, I don’t need… to prove my patriotic stripes.”

A favorite quote …

“The time is always right to do what is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

A little-known fact …

There are approximately 2 billion adherents of Christianity in the world, a number that is dropping; practitioners of Islam number around 1.5 billion, a rising figure.

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