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For many Muslim Americans, King's hearings add to weight of community's burden

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Keith Ellison (D - Minn.) is the first Muslim-American elected to Congress and one of two Muslim-Americans currently serving. Toward the end of his testimony, Ellison grows visibly emotional when he describes the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old Muslim-American paramedic and police cadet from New York City.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011; 9:25 PM

"It's the shopping-cart thing," one of the women said.

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"Yeah, totally. The shopping cart," the other agreed, nodding her scarf-covered head emphatically.

I was lost.

"Shopping cart?" I asked.

"You know, when you're at the grocery store you always make sure to bring the shopping cart back. Never leave it in the parking lot, because someone may think, 'Oh, those Muslims,' if you're wearing your scarf and they see you leave the cart in the parking lot."

Being a Muslim in America today can be a series of shopping-cart moments, a life of constantly knocking down stereotypes, dispelling myths, quelling fears. Thursday's high-profile congressional hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims could make that burden feel even heavier.

"I am a volunteer firefighter and EMT," said Ashraf Sabrin, a 37-year-old father of two. "I'm from Ohio. I never thought I would have to point to those things to show I'm just a regular American."

He was in Rabiah Ahmed's living room in Sterling, where a group of Muslims had gathered to eat bagels, drink coffee and watch the hearing, chaired by Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), on C-SPAN.

When some of the witnesses took the stand and made sweeping comments about jihadists, the room collectively groaned and eyes rolled.

And when Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslims in Congress, began tearing up during his emotional description of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, 23, the Muslim emergency medical technician who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, most everyone in the room cried, too.

Ellison recounted the young man's "Star Wars" obsession and noted the rumors that he was involved in the attacks when, in fact, he was among the first responders who risked their lives trying to save others.

"Did Ellison know him?" someone in the group asked.


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