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My Faith: Rep. Keith Ellison, from Catholic to Muslim

2 September 2011 General 17 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

keith ellison

By Chris Welch, CNN

Minneapolis, 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.”

Original post: My Faith: Rep. Keith Ellison, from Catholic to Muslim


  1. Interviews like this are why average Americans tend to ignore the MSM. This report failed to mention Ellison’s connection for many years to the racist and anti-Semitic group “The Nation of Islam”. Ellison actually converted to Islam as a member of this group. Keith Ellison was known by several aliases when associated with “The Nation of Islam” including Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison and Keith Ellison-Muhammad. His first unsuccessful run for Congress was as Keith Ellison-Muhammad.

  2. He was a never a “member” of the Nation of Islam. He helped them with organizing the “Million Man March” of 1995. He has since dismissed them as a bigoted group.

  3. Hera- Actually he is a Sunni Muslim, and quickly left the nation. He denounced the NOI leaders for their anti-Semitic and racist remarks, and has repeatedly said that he is a Sunni Muslim. I am sure you have a bad past, and would not like it brought up. ESPECIALLY if you have changed and got over that.

  4. wow….”I am sure you have a bad past”….lol

  5. isa,

    sorry for laughing, having given it some thought perhaps english isn’t your first language and you meant something like: i am sure you have done something bad in your past? or: i am sure you have made bad decisions in the past? maybe arabic is your native tongue. given it’s eliptical nature, thoughts may not always translate to english well.

    Mr. Ellison quickly apologized for past mistakes. He said repeatedly, including in a local synagogue, that he was distantly affiliated with the Nation of Islam for 18 months while helping to organize the Minnesota delegation to the Million Man March in Washington in 1995.

    He said he saw the march as a way to promote personal responsibility and economic development but said he later found it pointless.

    He also sent a letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council in Minneapolis, repudiating Mr. Farrakhan and his supporters as anti-Semitic.

  6. Another double double dealing man and typical of Muslims to start with! He should be voted out before their numbers grow in congress . He is a potential cultural jihadist creeping into our system and winning strategy that is successful in England and Europe!

  7. Angel,

    Yes our youth are studying political science subjects and if you check the number of successful muslims in this country you will be amazed. just sitdown and relax. our kids will become congress men and will lead this country to the most successful time it has ever known, We will bring light and success to this country, May Allah protects and guides Keith Ellison and increase the number like him, and for you to guide your heart to islam so that your hatred is wipped out. Enjoy your Breakfast.

  8. salim,

    no congress women though, right? what did the prophet say? a people lead by a woman will not prosper?

    yeah angel,

    sit down. maybe once the muslims are in charge we will be as prosperous as say the most populated muslim country in the world. maybe we can someday hope to be the economic powerhouse of say a bangledesh or even, if we pray real hard, a pakistan? maybe we will enjoy the political stability of north africa and the middle east. maybe we will then be able to feed ourselves, even in times of drought? maybe we will even be able to invent a few things? may the caliphate rise soon. the second coming is at hand. may al-mahdi grace us with his presence. omg angel, your first name isn’t Israafeel?

    imagine, so salim is an american? strange days indeed, most peculiar mamma, whoa!

  9. Mike you are acting like a kid, I am sure you know the meaning of MUSTACHRIK I guess. What a sarcasm? I see you are good at it, however you went and used Bengladesh and PAkistan as examples, why not Qatar, SAudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE, of course not because we know that SAudi arabia alone has about three trillions dollars blocked in the US banks, no need to mention the other middle eastern countries. Oh my god you forgot those countries. You other sarcastic examples of drought and all, I have enough stories of what happened in Katrina and other places. looting, stealing etc.. No Mercy between the people.

    Anyway I guess your hatred is simply a blindness yourself.

  10. salim,

    as for me acting like a kid. you maybe right, i’m very immature. what did jesus say? if you wish to enter my father’s kingdom be as the children? something like that? but where am i wrong? no, i don’t know the meaning of “MUSTACHRIK”? but i do know sarcasim and i love it. i employ it often. “I see you are good at it”…. thanks, i’ve been working on it for many years. “Bengladesh and PAkistan as examples, why not Qatar, SAudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE,” because they have oil wealth. perhaps allah gave them that oil? what have they invented? the uae has the tallest building in the world. built by frecnh engineers? are you serious with the gulf states? you missed baharain. so is it proof that allah blesses the gulf (islamic) states? so why not indonesia? malaysia, pakistan? morroco? maldives, egypt, tunisia, lebenon, palestine, syria etc etc?

    “because we know that SAudi arabia alone has about three trillions dollars blocked in the US banks,” not sure what that means? ?dollars blocked? do you mean that saudi arabia has 3 trillion of our debt? maybe so. yes our credit rating has been down graded from AAA to AA+ by standard and poor’s. so if we default on our debt what does that mean to the saudis and their 3 trillion?

    “I have enough stories of what happened in Katrina and other places. looting, stealing etc..” bring them on??? what does that mean???????? my brother had a house in metairie when katrina hit. i’ve lived in florida my whole live and been through a dozen hurricanes. so???? No Mercy between the people.” i don’t get what you are saying? god is making hurricanes happen? well of course god is making hurricanes happening, he makes all things happen,,,,,my sisters house was hit by a tornado. then a different house was hit by lightning…. surely she is a disbeliever…….

  11. Hera:


    What your comments FAILS to mention is had it NOT been for the mainstream media, we wouldn’t already have known that info! Check your calendar: you’re late!!

    Your comment also implies that the average American is watching a radical, not-necessarily-a-news program for their programming (literally)….like Fox Not-necessarily-the-news. I’m sure that by now, most common sense Americans can see that NOTWORK for what it really is: a right wingnut propaganda machination.

    This interview and video tells its audience about aspects of Keith Ellison that most didn’t know!!

  12. I often see people claim that the Nation of Islam/NOI is antisemitic.

    I’d like to know upon what basis does one make such a claim…..

    One oft-repeated, oft-taken out of context that haters of Min. Farrakhan credit him for saying is that “Jews are of the synagogue of satan”. Oh? That’s fair….considering the fact that this EDITED statement was his quoting of the KJV Bible!! (Revelation 2:9-10, 3:9)

    Or, the statement that they claim he made that “Judaism is a gutter religion”. He never made such a statement on the Phil Donahue Show or anywhere else. Within the first 5 minutes Phil Donahue introduces this topic and within those same 5 minutes, Min. Farrakhan clears himself of this lie! Not one time during the soundbite is the word “Judaism” mentioned, directly or indirectly.

    Again, I’d like to know upon what basis does one make such a claim…..

  13. Salim:

    As-Salaamu Alaikum,

    Insha’Allah, your words will ring true and we’ll see more Muslim politicians representing the people, at the local, state & federal levels!

    Just realize that Islamaphobe will speak and work against that effort based on 1) their high level of ignorance of Islam and 2) their devilish insistence of linking Islam with terrorism.

  14. Keith Ellison aka Keith Ellison-Muhammad, Barack Obama, Robert Spencer, Pam Geller, Hilary Clinton all appear on Fox News because Fox is where the viewers are, be those viewers left, right or center. FOX has more viewers then all the other cable news channels combined and wins every time slot 24 hours a day everyday.

    BTW- If someone doesn’t know the Nation of Islam is racist and anti-Semitic then they have no clue. For those who would like to learn more about the NOI read “Message to the Black Man in America” by Elijah Muhammad.

  15. Outgoing NY Times Editor came up with a series of religious questions to ask Republican candidates. In the spirit of the NY Times someone can up with religious questions to ask America’s first Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison.

    Faith Question for Keith Ellison

    Ellison’s public career raises basic questions that haven’t been asked by the media or answered by Ellison. Here are a few that come to mind:

    1. You say you converted to Islam as a college student in Detroit, yet your first published articles as a law student at the University of Minnesota were written under the pseudonym “Keith Hakim” from the perspective of a follower of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. When did you convert to Islam? At what mosque did you worship?

    2. After you graduated from law school, you became well known around Minneapolis as a local leader of the Nation of Islam. Were you a Muslim at that time?

    3. When you first ran for public office in 1998, the Insight News published an interview with you. You were running under the name “Keith Ellison-Muhammad” and identified yourself to the Insight News as a member of the Nation of Islam. Were you also a Muslim at that time? When after 1998 did you abandon the Nation of Islam?

    4. When you were a member of the Nation of Islam, did you believe that Yakub was a black scientist who lived “6,600 years ago” and was responsible for creating the white race to be a “race of devils”?

    5. Have you joined a mosque in Minneapolis? When did you join it?

    6. Do you believe that Islamic law should be the law of the land in the United States? Do you think Islam should be subordinate to the constitutional separation between church and state?

    7. You are a liberal Democrat who advocates the Democratic Party’s positions on gay rights, abortion, and feminism. Which branch of Islam comports with your position on these issues?

  16. dueceprez,

    what’s up? where you been? hanging with the loonwatch? anyways according to justin mr ellison has dismissed the noi as: “He has since dismissed them as a bigoted group.” such hatred? anyways i was reading their website and i’ve become confused again.

    “When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad asked Him to identify Himself He replied that He was the Mahdi.” i’ve been told the mahdi would battle the false messiah. did i sleep through the big battle?

  17. Just about all of the comments are demeaning someone else’s religion.

    I believe nearly all wars are caused by religions not understanding the people of other religions, and just by religion, period. Remember the song “Imagine” by John Lennon? If people would stop proselytizing, even though all religions want to convert everyone else to THEIR religion and if they are good members of their faith, they do “fellowship” with others who may not want to hear ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT ANYONE ELSE’S RELIGION, PERIOD.

    And many more wars are caused because countries don’t have enough land that is able to be lived upon, so countries go to war so they can spread out. We saw this in WWII with the German pogroms. And gas chambers. As Hitler thought he was going to take over the world.

    Back in the ’70’s there was an organization with an idea to help with overcrowding and raping our planet called ZPG-Zero Population Growth, whose creed was that each person has 1 child to replace him or her. So a family with 2 parents had 2 children, (because the Earth was already overcrowded at that time and they could see what was coming today and tomorrow). which today, they will be lucky if they can get just 2 fed, housed and educated and into our dwindling workforce. It seems as if they want work, they will have to go to China to obtain employment at wages worse than the McJobs Perry is so proud of in Texas and with Carl Rove, who managed to steal 2 elections for W, handling him. No wonder he seems nuttier than usual. Rove needs to be jailed, along with W, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others of that ilk.

    I subscribe to a very good publication called ffrf, which are the initials for Freedom FROM Religion Foundation and it gives a whole new perspective, well, not new, just not proselytized about the way some of our nuttier presidential candidates do who can’t decide if they are running for office, Pastor, OB/GYN so they can have access to our uteri, or God. This is why I am so annoyed with all the Islamophobia in this country. This country where people came to be free to practice their religion freely, without being bothered.

    I would like the same freedom to NOT PRACTICE ANY RELIGION AT ALL AND TO NOT BE INUNDATED WITH ALL THE RELIGION THAT CAN BE CRAMMED DOWN MY THROAT BY AS MANY PEOPLE AS THERE ARE TRYING TO DO THAT. And there are plenty of them. This country is on the verge of becoming a Fundamentalist Judeo/Christian country. This is not what I want for the US and I can’t believe that there are so many who do. This makes you hypocrites, in case you don’t realize that.

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