Representative Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006, and the first person of color elected to represent Minnesota in the national legislature. Along the way he’s confronted questions about his faith, patriotism, and even some unpaid parking tickets that nearly derailed his first campaign. He talks about all that in his new book, My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future.
On the controversy over swearing in with a Quran
It did not occur to me that it would be a problem, you know? I don’t know what that reflects about me, but when I was asked the question, my primary concern was getting voters out to the polls, not what I was going to swear in on. I hadn’t even assumed that I would be swearing in on anything, because the election had not come. And so, I said “well yeah sure, of course I’ll swear in on the Quran.” Because it occurs to me that if your elected official is one who would want to swear in on a holy book, you’d want them to swearing on a holy book they profess to, right? Because that’s what makes the oath solemn.
On giving tearful testimony at the House of Representatives
It started out very calm, I was fine. But as I just started thinking about [Mohammad Salman Hamdani, who died during the 9/11 attacks], his mother, so many people I’ve known who’ve been yanked off airplanes, had their hjiabs pulled off their head, been stabbed, and had their mosques defaced, and been opposed by zoning commissions, I don’t know. Maybe it was just all that that came together in my mind in that moment. I don’t know what came over me. I remember when I was done feeling embarrassed and wanting to get out of there.