- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Minnesota’s 5th District is expected to elect the nation’s first Muslim to Congress in November, two-term state Sen. Keith Ellison, but his Republican opponent says his counterpart’s past should give voters pause.

Republican candidate Alan Fine, who is Jewish, Monday said Mr. Ellison’s previous links to “people who support hate,” including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and a former leader of the New Black Panther Party, “is not inconsequential.”

Mr. Fine said he is “personally offended, as a Jew, that we have a candidate like this running for U.S. Congress.”

Mr. Ellison, who easily won the party primary and is backed by the state’s Democratic party, already has fended off attacks about ties to the Nation of Islam and overdue taxes, winning support by calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and universal health care.

The 43-year-old criminal defense lawyer who converted from Catholicism to Islam as a college student has denounced Mr. Farrakhan and is endorsed by a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper. He would be the state’s first black congressman.

Supporters hope that a successful campaign by Mr. Ellison to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, whose district is about 70 percent Democratic, will encourage additional moderate Muslim Americans to run for office.

“This speaks very highly of the U.S. that they are looking at the candidates and not just their religion,” said American Muslim Alliance (AMA) Chairman Agha Saeed.

“It’s also a shining example for American Muslims that they can work with and succeed in an open, democratic society.”

The number of Muslims seeking office radically declined after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Seventy Muslims ran for office in 2002, but that number rose to about 100 in 2004, according to the AMA.

State Sen. Larry Shaw, North Carolina Democrat, is currently the highest-ranking Muslim public official.

But Mr. Fine doesn’t think his opponent’s past indicates moderation.

Mr. Fine emphasizes that his criticism “has nothing to do with him being black or being a Muslim,” but that voters should scrutinize Mr. Ellison’s past as they would a candidate like “David Duke,” a white supremacist.

In 1995, Mr. Ellison volunteered with Mr. Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam to help organize the Million Man March, and, Mr. Fine said, Mr. Ellison has also written articles praising Mr. Farrakhan.

Mr. Ellison also once appeared on stage with now-deceased Khalid Abdul Muhammed, a leader of the New Black Panther Party who once described Jews as, “the bloodsuckers of the black nation.”

Mr. Ellison said he is not a member of the Nation of Islam. In May, he wrote a letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas declaring that his religious and personal views, “categorically and unequivocally reject[ing] anti-Semitism in any form.”

In addition, Mr. Ellison regularly attends services at Masjid An-Nur Mosque, widely considered to be a mainstream Muslim house of worship.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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