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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs