Minn. Lawmaker 1st Muslim in Congress

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 9:01 AM

MINNEAPOLIS -- Keith Ellison never ran on his religion -- or away from it. Ellison, a state lawmaker and lawyer, has become the first Muslim elected to Congress, and the first nonwhite elected to Congress from Minnesota.

On the campaign trail, Ellison, 43, talked little about his religious background, focusing instead on his call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and his support for single-payer health care. He broke from more conservative Muslims by favoring gay rights and abortion rights.

Ellison said his campaign united labor, minority communities and peace activists. "We were able to bring in Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists," he said. "We brought in everybody."

Hayat Hassan, 30, a single mother and a Muslim, said she voted for Ellison because of his positions on health care and education.

"I didn't even know he was a Muslim until one of his campaign workers told me," she said.

The seat was thrown open when longtime Rep. Martin Sabo said he would retire after 28 years. On Tuesday, Ellison beat Republican Alan Fine and the Independence Party's Tammy Lee.

Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society, compared Ellison's victory to Edward Brooke's election in 1966 as the first black senator since Reconstruction.

Ellison's campaign had to deal with reports of overdue parking tickets, late campaign finance reports and unpaid taxes. He also faced questions about anti-Semitism because of past ties with the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group led by the confrontational Louis Farrakhan.

Ellison, a criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student, denounced Farrakhan and won the endorsement of a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper.

© 2006 The Associated Press