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First Muslim Elected to Congress

Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota was the first Muslim to be elected to the House of Representatives.

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  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television:

    Newly elected members of Congress don't take office until January, but they gathered in Washington this week for orientation. Among this largely Democratic group, one stood out: Keith Ellison from Minneapolis, his state's first African-American and the nation's first Muslim member of Congress.

    Minnesota's 5th District has voted strongly Democratic since 1963, but some voters in our random survey weren't aware they'd made history when they elected Ellison.

  • MINNESOTA CITIZEN:

    For Congress, I voted for — actually I voted all Democrat.

  • JOURNALIST:

    You did. So you voted for Keith Ellison?

  • MINNESOTA CITIZEN:

    Yes.

  • JOURNALIST:

    And did you know who he was before you voted?

  • MINNESOTA CITIZEN:

    No, I didn't.

  • JOURNALIST:

    Did you know much about Keith Ellison before you voted?

  • MINNESOTA CITIZEN:

    No.

  • JOURNALIST:

    Did you know that he was a Muslim?

  • MINNESOTA CITIZEN:

    No.

    REP.-ELECT KEITH ELLISON (D), Minnesota: Oh, how are you? Is this your son?

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    But in the Muslim community, Ellison was no stranger. In fact, one reason he won a tough primary race against three well-known opponents was the outpouring of support from this community.

    Minneapolis' Muslim population isn't the largest in North America, but it's grown substantially in recent years. The city, for example, has the largest Somali population in North America. These new Americans haven't been political active, but were galvanized by Ellison's candidacy.

    Ellison was a frequent campaigner in places like this Somali shopping center in Minneapolis and in other gatherings of local Muslims. He said he understood their concerns about being treated differently.

  • KEITH ELLISON:

    They are looking for their representatives to just really stand up for the due process and the rule of law. The whole idea of profiling people because of what they look like, or the countries they come from, or their accent is something that I think the Muslim community is concerned about.

    And I've been concerned about racial profiling for many years and introduced bills on it in the state legislature and advocated to have it prohibited even before I was in the state legislature. So that will be something I'll be trying to work to make sure that we put the focus on…