- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s first Muslim lawmaker took office yesterday, saying he was proud to make history but was not interested in being known only for his religion.

Delegate Saqib Ali, Montgomery Democrat, encountered few problems during his campaign, but a protester stood outside his house in August with an anti-Muslim poster and a T-shirt that read: “This mind is an Allah-free zone.”

Mr. Ali defeated incumbent Delegate Joan F. Stern in the Democratic primary.

As Mr. Ali sat awaiting his first day in office yesterday, holding his snoozing 8-month-old daughter outside the House chamber, he said the protester was an exception to his experience on the campaign.

“Occasionally people would ask if I was Muslim, but most of the time it was a curiosity, not an obstacle,” said Mr. Ali, a software engineer who until now has never held elected office.

The protester was warned by police and did not return.

“It was disappointing that that kind of bigotry would still rear its head, but I understand it was an isolated incident,” Mr. Ali said.

There was no religious controversy as Mr. Ali took the oath of office with his colleagues. Maryland lawmakers do not hold their hands on a religious text while taking office. Earlier this month, Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, became the first Muslim in Congress and swore his oath on a Koran that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Ali wants to work on transportation issues and to pass a bill making it tougher for companies to track information and buying habits of private citizens. He also wants his constituents to know he is just like them.

“I will represent the Muslims, but more importantly, I will represent all the people,” Mr. Ali said. “I’m a Muslim, but I’m also a resident.”

Other lawmakers cheered the historical first. The Maryland House has had a Hindu member since 1990 — Kumar P. Barve, also a Montgomery Democrat.

“I think it’s great,” said Delegate Anne Healey, Prince George’s Democrat. “Maryland has had a history of religious tolerance going back to the founding of the colony.”

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