By Shabina S. Khatri
It didn’t take long for political pundits to pooh-pooh the astonishing results of last month’s mid-term elections. Despite the dramatic power shift in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and the resignation of controversial Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the pessimists were quick to point out that a veto-wielding Republican president still remains in the White House.
The naysayers also expressed skepticism about Keith Ellison’s election to Congress. As the nation’s first Muslim American congressman, Ellison is many things to many people.
To some, he is a token minority in a hostile sea of politicians who are hell-bent on destroying the ummah. To others, he is a beacon of light, the tipping point that will finally start our community down the path of acceptance in this great land of the free, home of the brave.
But ask Ellison what he thinks about his election – and many journalists have – and he’d probably just shrug. That’s because the affable criminal defense attorney, who converted to Islam while attending Wayne State University, didn’t focus his campaign on religion.
Rather, he pushed a platform centered on civil and human rights, an agenda perfectly compatible with Islam but simultaneously palatable to all of the people in the district he now represents.
It was a politically savvy strategy, but it also landed Ellison in a lot of hot water. To some folks, he wasn’t being Muslim enough. To others, he was still too Muslim.
Such is the nature of politics, that you can’t please everyone.
As Muslims, we should be proud of Ellison’s accomplishments. Not simply because he is our brother, but because he is doing exactly what all of us need to do to keep Islam thriving in the U.S.
He is being himself.
As in, a man whose record shows him to be a firm advocate of universal health care, one who favors peace and a fast withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and a unifying figure who mobilized election-time support from not only the Muslims in his town, but also members of Minneapolis’ black, Jewish, and gay and lesbian communities.
He is proud to be Muslim, but doesn’t profess to represent or speak on behalf of all of us. He is proud to be black, but doesn’t profess to represent or speak all blacks, either.
He is being himself.
Though I may not agree with everything Keith Ellison says or does, I am proud of him for attempting to effect change through politics. It takes guts to face the many critics he is up against. On one side of the spectrum, there are the Muslim-haters who falsely accuse him of representing Louis Farrakhan and make other ridiculously bigoted allegations. And on the other, there are his own people, the Muslims who denounce him for his stances on abortion and Middle East politics, telling him such policies are unbefitting of a believer.
Unfortunately, Ellison’s title as the first Muslim American congressman sets him up for years of challenges in the dirty world of politics, where reputation always turns on the fickle tide of public opinion.
Capitol Hill may not be the most inviting place for a practicing Muslim, or any minority for that matter, but that’s all the more reason we should aspire to get there.
Congrats to Keith Ellison. InshAllah may he be an inspiration to any person who wishes to beat the odds and make a difference in the world, no matter what his/her race, creed or religion.