News / USA

Congressman: Misunderstanding of Islam Continues in the US

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of only two Muslim's in Congress, testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims, on Capitol Hill in Washington (File Photo - March 10, 2011)
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of only two Muslim's in Congress, testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims, on Capitol Hill in Washington (File Photo - March 10, 2011)
Karlina Amkas

Most Muslims around the world will start the fasting month of Ramadan on Monday, August 1. In America, Muslims have been conducting a series of events to welcome the holy month of Ramadan. But, according to a U.S. Congressman, Islam still is mostly misunderstood in the United States. 

Keith Ellison, a member of the House of Representatives from the midwestern state of Minnesota delivered greetings on the fasting month.

Islam is still much misunderstood

Ellison took office in January, 2007, and became the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress.  He was first elected in November of 2006, just five years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  He has won re-election twice since then.

Keith Ellison is one of the many faces of Muslims in America. As a pioneer in his profession, many people ask how his fellow members of Congress on Capitol Hill treat him. In a recent panel discussion “Muslims in America” held by the Faith and Politics Institute at the Newseum in Washington, Ellison answered that question:

"I want to assure you that I have been well treated, well received. Well respected by my colleagues," he said.

Islam, Ellison acknowledged, is still much misunderstood. But, he asserts, Islam in America is not something new.  Islam has been in America for 14 generations. He regrets though, that throughout the world, people treated religion as their identity and are willing to kill or die over the identity associated with religion, not the faith, but religious identity.

"If you use your religion as an identity as opposed to a path to divine, inspirations and guidance, then you are no different than Crips and Bloods [gangs]," he said. "And I want to say that I mean that."

Make this world a better place

A Palestinian souvenir shop owner displays decoration lights of Ramadan at his shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 31, 2011
A Palestinian souvenir shop owner displays decoration lights of Ramadan at his shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 31, 2011

Surveys show that about 60 percent of Americans do not understand Islam. To further introduce Islam, Ellison argued, the Muslim community in America should be much more vocal about who they really are, then take actions in their chosen field.

"If you can make a movie, make one. If you could sing a song, sing it. If you could write a play, write it. If you want to run for office - run, but do something to make this world a better place" said Ellison. "And then we don’t even have to worry about what religion we are because we [will] all be united in what we believe, which is service to humanity."

His argument is echoed by Wajahat Ali, a man of Pakistani descent, a playwright and theater director, who was born and raised near the city of San Francisco in the western state of California. His works, in particular, The Domestic Crusaders,  gained lots of attention.

Remake of history

What is happening to Muslims in America nowadays, according to Wajahat Ali, is a “remake of history with new characters." Looking back, he recalls, Jews, Blacks, Americans of Japanese and Italian descent have had similar experiences. He believes homosexuals are under the same type of scrutiny now.

Meanwhile, Hussein Rashid, a lecturer and a Muslim activist in New York, regrets that not many Muslim leaders have emerged lately.  He believes it is because Muslims are not good at telling their stories.

Muslims are not good at telling their stories

Rashid also regrets that many Muslims try to fit in their environment because they do not want to appear as a Muslim. In fact, he said, it is okay to be different, and that Muslims have many similarities with people of other religions in America. So, he adds, Muslims or non-Muslims, we are all Americans, and we need to promote equality and respect for diversity.

Another panelist was an independent filmmaker who has spent years working for Hollywood movie industries, Lena Khan. Through her short movie A Land Called Paradise she states that Muslims in America are just like other Americans. She says we also shop at Victoria's Secret, are fans of Justin Timberlake, and fall in love.

But, she states, it is our choice to be away from alcoholic beverages that cause one death every 31 minutes,  not to commit adultery, and, for Muslim women, to wear hijab.

Ellison, Khan, Ali and Rashid all urge Muslims to do something in their respective fields to make a better world. In addition, Keith Ellison calls on Muslims to serve the community. Wajahat Ali asks Muslims to do something for all so that we can learn from each other. Meanwhile, Hussein Rashid calls on Muslims to raise their "voice" and deliver a story that can be shared.

It was the first panel discussion of its kind held at the Newseum and it was just days before Muslims start their Ramadan.

The Fiqh Council of North America sets Ramadan to begin on Monday, August 1. The fasting month comes when the Americans are debating the debt ceiling, the Middle East regions are still in turbulence, and Muslims in Somalia are suffering from a severe famine due to drought.

Still Keith Ellison says, no matter what is happening in the world he wants to express his wish for a blessed Ramadan for all Muslims anywhere in the world.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs