Update: Ellison's Victory in Primary Seen as a Step Forward for the Muslim Community

September 13, 2006

Source: USA Today


On September 13, 2006 USA Today reported, "The Minnesota Democrat who is likely to become the first Muslim elected to Congress says he wants to "promote the idea that America needs friends around the world, not more enemies." Keith Ellison, an African-American state legislator from Minneapolis, won Tuesday's Democratic primary to replace Rep. Martin Olav Sabo. The son of Norwegian immigrants is retiring after 28 years in the House of Representatives. Ellison beat three other Democrats, including Sabo's former chief of staff and ex-party chairman, Mike Erlandson. Although Ellison will face Republican business consultant Alan Fine in November, his election is all but guaranteed, says University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs. In 2004, 71% of the district's voters backed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Minnesota's most ethnically diverse district is home to veiled Somali women, Russian Jewish immigrants and Hmong refugees, belying the state's image as a homogeneous Scandinavian enclave. Ellison's victory marks a turning point for American Muslims, according to community leaders such as Ali Khan of the American Muslim Council. 'It says, "Look, you are part of America,"' says Khan, who notes that until recently the diverse community was 'not very organized' or interested in electoral politics. Estimates of the number of U.S. Muslims vary between 2 million and 6 million. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says about a third are black and another third are from South Asia. One in four are of Arab descent and the rest from Africa and elsewhere... Ellison says he never brought up his religion or his race — he would be Minnesota's first black member of Congress — during the campaign. Voters did, however, ask about his position, as a Muslim, on Israel, the separation of church and state, abortion rights and gay rights. He says he supports them all."