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American Muslim

Keith Ellison speaks to AMV
 board member Adeel Iqbal

By Adeel Iqbal 

SARATOGA, Calif. Oct. 26, 2006 – Keith Ellison, the Democratic candidate for the Congressional race in Minneapolis, Minn., asked for the physical and financial aid of Bay Area Muslim community leaders Thursday night. 

“I need your help and your support,” the 43-year-old African-American Muslim said to a crowd of about 50 Muslims ranging in age from undergraduate college students to community pioneers. The campaign event was hosted by Dr. Hasan Kamil. 

Ellison, a criminal trial attorney, is poised to become the first Muslim in the U.S. House of Representatives. His district has not had a Republican in office since the 1960s. 

Local officials, including Rep. Michael Honda, D-San Jose, and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Berkeley, have endorsed Ellison. 

The candidate’s remarks – and his honest, approachable style – excited attendees of the campaign event. 

“As I’m looking at him, it looks like we’ve known him forever,” said attorney and Bay Area resident Javed Ellahie. “That’s part of Islam. It’s a heart to heart thing. You feel like you are on a level playing field with him.” 

Ellison, who has served two terms in the Minnesota legislature and been a Minneapolis city council member, highlighted the details of his race and campaign goals in his discussion. 

He stressed his efforts on domestic issues, including community building and fighting against human rights violations. He said he is an advocate for peace, improved health coverage, the unemployed and students who cannot afford the high cost of college education.  

Faith has never been his issue. 

“Everybody in Minnesota knows I am a Muslim, but I didn’t want my being Muslim to be the reason for my candidacy,” he said. 

Regardless, he said, the fact that he is Muslim has become the main point of discussion for some and turned into a blessing. Ellison has been interviewed by Reuters, the New York Times and Wolf Blitzer of CNN’s The Situation Room. He said he would not have had these opportunities if he were not Muslim.  

Ellison urged Muslims to organize a Muslim day at the Capital in Sacramento where more than one hundred Muslims could visit the capital, meet the Governor and their elected representatives and impress upon them issues important to the American Muslim community. This is the first step in establishing an effective Muslim day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. 

“We can get ourselves organized into a coherent political force,” Ellison said of Muslims in an interview with American Muslim Voice board members after his campaign pitch. 

He also stressed civic engagement, encouraging his fellow Muslims to organize interfaith activities and participate in their cities, schools and communities. 

Engagement, he said, is the key issue for Muslims today. 

“There is no room for sitting on the sidelines,” he said. 

Ellison said he made his short trip to California with his wife Kim, a high school mathematics teacher, to spread his message of civic engagement.  

Kim Ellison said she and her four children are all part of their father’s effort. 

“We try to keep the kids involved. We don’t want them to think that this is something Dad does,” she said. Ellison’s youngest, 10-year-old Amirah, is his best campaigner. She loves going door to door, her proud mother said. 

The candidate said his civic activism is a part of his family culture. His grandfather organized black voters in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Ellison said his mother instilled that spirit of contributing to the community and impacting change into her four sons. 

Ellison and his campaign team have gone door to door to spread his message and get people to vote. They have made countless calls to encourage voters to come to the polls. Campaigners hit 37,000 doors three times in four days and made 90,000 phone calls prior to the September primary.  

That effort is underway again and Ellison appealed for help with the calling campaign. He also appealed for funds. 

Although Ellison has been victim of a number of negative campaign attacks from his Republican opponent Alan Fine, who has labeled Ellison a terrorist sympathizer, Ellison has chosen not to respond with a negative campaign. He said a smear campaign would go against his belief of bringing together people of all races and religions.  

For many Muslims who see Congress subservient to the whims of lobbyists, Ellison is a symbol of hope.  

“Ketih Ellison provides an inspiring role model for generations of Muslim youth to come,” said Faisal Ghori, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, who attended the reception. 

Ellison was showered with hugs and prayers during the campaign event. 

“We are honored he was able to join us. I think he can be a very effective Congressman,” Kamil, the event host, said. “He has a very effective understanding of D.C. He can really help raise the profile of American Muslims. He will bring respect to Muslims.”

Kamran Khan, a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and an event attendee said it best: “I think he has the potential to change the system. He has the knowledge, the foresight, and the background to create positive change for not only Muslims in America, but Americans in America.”

Samina F. Sundas agrees "Keith Ellison is indeed a candidate for all"  

More information is at www.keithellison.org. If interested in assisting with the campaign, call 612.522.4416. 

Adeel Iqbal is a junior at UC Berkeley, Board member of the American Muslim Voice and former editor in chief of The Daily Californian.