Rep. Keith Ellison speaking at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit last Saturday, only days after he cried while testifying in Washington over House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King's hearing on homegrown Muslim terrorism. PHOTO: Natasha Dado/TAAN
Ellison represents Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, and is the first Muslim (and one of two currently serving) to be elected in the United States Congress.
"The Muslim community should not have to stand up for the principle of religious unity alone. At that hearing it wasn't just you whose rights were on the line," Ellison said.
"Every religious minority's rights were on the line at that hearing. Because if they do it to Muslims today they can do it to Jews tomorrow. They can do it to Catholics the next day. They can do it to the Mormons the day after that. You're not just standing up for your own faith. You're standing up for everyone's right to have their own faith."
Ellison spoke on a panel, along with political strategist Mustafa Tameez and Regional Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations of Michigan, Dawud Walid. Attorney and community activist Haaris Ahmed also addressed the crowd of nearly 200.
CAIR organized the event titled "Be Counted Not Ignored." The focus was to get Muslims more engaged in the political process, and encourage them to continue making their voices heard while ongoing fear tactics and misinformation are being spread about Islam.
According to Walid, CAIR was mentioned about 50 times at the Congressional hearing negatively. The remarks highly outnumbered the positive feedback CAIR received.
Ellison said CAIR was denounced because of its power. "Why CAIR and why your organization? The organizations are powerful. They want to break you down organizationally," Ellison said.
He noted that CAIR is among the most vocal, effective Islamic advocacy groups. "They're going to the biggest kid in your neighborhood and starting a fight with him," Ellison added.
He says CAIR operates legally in the U.S. and cooperates with law enforcement all over the country, and guarantees the organization would be shut down if it did anything wrong.
Tameez and Ellison repeatedly stressed the importance of not allowing anger to build up over negative Muslim stereotypes.
"I want you to know…return ugly with beauty and show our people who you really are. Because they want to think you’re a certain way, but you keep on messing them up by doing the right thing," he said.
Ellison says at one point the NAACP was banned from Alabama. "Because the NAACP is trying to break down segregation, so CAIR is trying to break down Islamphobia. So people who want to propose Islamophobia are going to try to attack CAIR. You all have to be aware of this, and you have to have faith. And you can't let them scare you," he said.
Walid made a suggestion to the crowd in terms of how to interact with people who aren't Muslim. "Please stop using the term non-Muslim to refer to fellow Americans…We refer to our fellow Americans as people of other faiths or people of other religions. So let us stop using that word non-Muslim," Walid said. He says he wouldn't want to be identified as a non-Christian.
Tameez stressed the importance of getting American Muslims to become more politically active. "So it's important to get people in our community to go out and vote. Because once you get them to vote the political apparatus all of a sudden starts mailing to them and getting them engaged," he said.
He told people to start downgrading their lifestyles and invest more in the community. "Try to give to political campaigns and ask other people in the community to participate. If the person gives money they will get a call," he said.
He also hopes Muslims get more active in issues that don't involve their culture. "If you don't like the way a reporter writes an article, call them. Don't just contact them if it's about your ethnicity. You should contact them about other stuff too," he said.