CC ISSUE: MAR 2012 Last updated: Mar 8, 2012
Reflecting on Ellison’s address to African American Muslim leaders
Dr. Bambade Shakkor-Abdullah
This event occurred in Chicago on Feb. 18, 2012.
Echoing the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) issued a call for Muslim political action and intercultural unity.
“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities,” Jefferson once said.
Ellison, an African American from Minnesota, was the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, and even insisted on taking his Oath of Office on the Quran, once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
In his address to a group of Muslim leaders in Chicago, he spoke of how the viability and sustainability of his fight for religious freedom in the U.S. Congress is dependent on the political action, support and unity of Muslims, and other people of faith throughout our nation.
Although he represents the state of Minnesota, he votes on issues impacting the entire nation. He and Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) have been staunch advocates against bigotry and for religious freedom. They have been able to educate Congress and give them talking points to dispel many of the myths and prejudices promoted against Muslims and Islam in recent years, including the Peter King hearings and Ground Zero controversies. Carson also used an analogy between the basic principles of Zakat, to support President Obama’s call for big corporations paying their “fair share of taxes.”
Ellison used the example of the Companions of Prophet Muhammad as a model for how Islamic leadership should be represented. There were both men and women, Arabs, Asians, young, old and Blacks (Africans). There were both wealthy and poor, knowledgeable and passionate. This diversity will provide a firm foundation upon which to build a strong, unified community of believers able to withstand the attacks from outside without folding under the pressure.
Although it is important to build on the strengths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement in our fight for religious freedom, we must be more innovative in how we implement our strategies. In a global technology-based society, as we live in today, we must find strength in our numbers, our knowledge, our experience and our unity. We must work more closely together to get a better understanding of our relative strengths and weaknesses.