My Faith: Rep. Keith Ellison from Catholic to Muslim

By Chris Welch, CNN

769265196_0c4e4f2cdd_oMinneapolis, Minnesota (CNN) –Prior to 2006, few people even knew that then-Minnesota state legislator Keith Ellison was a Muslim. Because of his English name, he said, no one thought to ask.
But five years ago, when he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives – a race he would go on to win – word of his religious affiliation began to spread.

“When I started running for Congress it actually took me by surprise that so many people were fascinated with me being the first Muslim in Congress,” said Ellison, a Democrat now serving his third term in the House.

“But someone said to me, ‘Look Keith, think of a person of Japanese origin running for Congress six years after Pearl Harbor–this might be a news story.’”

Though Ellison’s status as the first Muslim elected to Congress is widely known, fewer are aware that he was born into a Catholic family in Detroit and was brought up attending Catholic schools.
But he said he was never comfortable with that faith.

“I just felt it was ritual and dogma,” Ellison said. “Of course, that’s not the reality of Catholicism, but it’s the reality I lived. So I just kind of lost interest and stopped going to Mass unless I was required to.”

It wasn’t until he was a student at Wayne State University in Detroit when Ellison began, “looking for other things.”

He doesn’t have an elaborate explanation of what led him to convert to Islam in college, though he said he was “drawn to the multi-national congregation.”

“I would really like to hear somebody who is really articulate about the elements of their faith conversion. I’m not,” he said. “I investigated it, it worked for me, and it made me have a sense of inspiration and wonder, and I became a Muslim. It’s been working for me ever since.”

Ellison’s political opponents have made his faith an issue in his congressional campaigns.

“I would caution [opponents] that it doesn’t work. People are not hateful like that,” he said. “If you come up saying, ‘Vote for me because Ellison is a Muslim and I’m not,’ nine out of ten voters are going to see that as the silliness that it is.”

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all,” he said. “In fact I actually feel sorry for these people.”

And he said he has never had a second thought about converting.

“My faith and my identity as a Muslim – I never saw it as something that made my job harder,” he said. “It’s just an aspect of who I am.

It’s the time that we live in. We have to respond to the realities of the world we’re in.”

But Ellison acknowledges that his faith has given him something of a national profile, not always in ways that are welcome.

In March, he testified in nationally televised congressional hearings, called by Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, to explore what King said was radicalization in American Muslim communities.
At the hearing, Ellison choked up as he described the sacrifices of Muslim Americans who tried to save others in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Without any of my choosing or desire I became somewhat of a symbolic figure,” Ellison said. “And I urge anyone to avoid becoming a symbolic figure if you can. But I ended up in that position, so I just figured why not talk about it? Why not help try to bring people together with it?”

“Faith really should be a bridge, not a wall,” Ellison said. “Because at the end of the day we should be focusing on what you believe, not what your religion is.”


Ryan Harris Leaves Denver for Philly

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of,

ryan_harrisVeteran football offensive tackle Ryan Harris signed a one year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on August 2nd. He had spent the previous four seasons with the Denver Broncos. And, now he has his sights set on the starting right tackle position currently occupied by Winston Justice. However, the job should be fairly open, with Justice having finished last season on the bench in a playoff game.

Harris was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was raised in the church of Unitarian Universalism before converting to Islam. He was football and wrestling star in high school. And, after being heavily recruited for football, he went to the University of Notre Dame, where he started on the offensive line for all four years.

Former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, and current football analyst, Garry Cobb viewed Harris at Eagles practice and wrote, “I got a short look at Harris but it wasn’t enough for me to give him a thumbs up or thumbs down. He looks and sounds like a good, intelligent athlete with the size to get the job done. I didn’t focus on him during the workout, I know I didn’t see his man getting to the quarterback, which is really all that matters.”

Cobb wrote further on, “I talked to Harris after practice and he talked about all the new techniques he’s had to learn from new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. I could tell that Harris is a cool confident customer, which [is] the attitude you must have to survive at offensive tackle in this league with all of these phenomenally talented defensive ends in the league.”

Harris was drafted by the Denver Broncos as a 3rd round pick (70th overall) in the 2007 NFL draft. In the 2008 season, Harris only allowed 1.5 sacks on his quarterback, Jay Cutler. The next year, Harris only started and played in 8 games, due to injuries. He dislocated two toes in a game on November 1, 2009. The injury kept him out the rest of season and was placed on Injured Reserve on December 9. Now, he becomes a part of Philadelphia’s so-called Dream Team. And he will have a valuable role on the team, that of protecting prized quarterback Michael Vick.