MINNESOTA – In 2006, Keith Maurice Ellison became the first American Muslim elected to serve in Congress, representing Minnesota’s 5th District.
Several months later, Ellison took the oath of office on a copy of the Holy Qur’an once owned by Thomas Jefferson, with a wall of journalists jostling to capture the historic moment.
“It was really quite a heady moment for me,” Ellison says, “and in some ways, I’m still unpacking it.” The Detroit native says Islam informs how he sees the world.
The 54-year-old American politician and lawyer was raised as a Catholic Christian. Ellison graduated in 1981 from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy.
At the age of 19, while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, he converted to Islam, later giving the following explanation: “I can’t claim that I was the most observant Catholic at the time [of my conversion]. I had begun to really look around and ask myself about the social circumstances of the country, issues of justice, issues of change. When I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change, justice in society… I found Islam.”
Ellison says, “I try to remind people of what the Book says. I try to talk about the tolerance of the Prophet [peace be upon him]. We trust God to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. I do find people in Islam who are intolerant, but ultimately our purpose is to demonstrate tolerance, live it, show it, and speak up for it.”
Ellison was seen as a rising Democratic star, a progressive who understood the Democratic Party’s shifting center.
In 2017, after the party’s shocking loss in the 2016 presidential election, he became the national party’s vice chair.
On June 5, 2018, Ellison announced that he would not seek re-election to a seventh term in Congress in 2018, but would instead run for Minnesota Attorney General.
On August 14, Ellison won the Democratic primary election for Minnesota attorney general, becoming the party’s nominee in November.