Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Muslims in Congress

There have more than 12,100 men and women who have served in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives since the first gavel fell in 1789. Of those, 162 have been Black, a sorry 1 percent, especially considering that there are about 60 Black Democrats and Republicans now serving in the Congress. That attests to this country’s long history of Black voter suppression.

When it comes to Muslim members, since 2007 there have been — count ’em — four. Three of the four are still in office, and three of the four are of African descent — Black Muslims, if you will.

In 2006, Keith Ellison, now attorney general of Minnesota was the first Muslim elected to Congress. He was sworn in with his hand on a Holy Quran — the book of Islamic Scriptures — once owned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

In 2007, when his grandmother, Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.), died of cancer, Andre Carson, whose professional background had been in law enforcement, won her seat and has been reelected ever since.

In 2018, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a refugee from war-torn Somalia in East Africa, was elected to the seat formerly held by Ellison, and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) won the seat formerly held by Rep. John Conyers. Her ancestors are Palestinians.

Many, many people in this country believe that having Muslims in Congress is “un-American.” But the U.S. Constitution does not permit such Islamophobic religious discrimination.

Its wording, in Article VI Clause 3 is explicit and unambiguous: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (emphasis mine)

NO RELIGIOUS TEST! Period.

Before she was even sworn into office, Rep. Tlaib recalls that she was warned by the FBI of death threats against her, on the first day of her orientation! Such hatred! And those threats continue to this day for her and for Omar.

But when it comes to the absence of Muslim representation in Congress, the 800-pound gorilla in the room (or absent from it) is the Nation of Islam, the sure-enough, Black Muslims. When he was among us, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad did not permit his followers to even vote, let alone hold office in what he described as “the devil’s politics,” although he expressed great admiration for Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.), the pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinia Baptist Church.

After Mr. Muhammad’s national assistant, Minister Louis Farrakhan, led his followers to register and to vote to support the Democratic primary presidential campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984, the doors were opened, but few Nation of Islam members rushed into the halls of elected office.

But there was a cruel and unjust restriction placed on Minister Farrakhan, and on Muslims in general when it comes to holding elected office, especially Congress. The bias caused Ellison, who was filmed selling the Nation’s Final Call newspaper, to deny ever having done such, and to renounce Minister Farrakhan when he was considered for the position of Director of the Democratic National Convention. Sad!

The unjust bias against Minister Farrakhan might also explain why Carson and Omar and Tlaib have kept their distance from the Nation of Islam leader. When Carson’s grandmother learned that I was affiliated with the NOI, she told me: “My grandson is a member of the F.O.I.,” the Fruit of Islam, the training for men in the Nation.

Their distance is understandable, I suppose. Former Congress members Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.), and Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) were both targeted and defeated in primary challenges because they embraced Minister Farrakhan’s support.

It is easy to figure out. If Football Hall of Famer and sports analyst Shannon Sharpe is to be believed, no famous celebrity can hardly even mention the name Farrakhan — who brought 2 million Black men to the U.S. Capitol for the Million Man March in 1995 and left the Mall cleaner than it was when they arrived — without rebuke.

Sharpe cites, as an example of the hypocrisy, 10-time Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady’s affection for the twice-impeached, inveterate liar and accused serial sexual abuser Donald J. Trump on the one hand, and the arm’s length which the whole celebrity world keeps from the Minister.

Quoting Sharpe: “For argument’s sake, let’s just say LeBron James says ‘My friend Minister Farrakhan.’ How would America react? You see, Blacks have always had to be very, very quiet about who their friends are. A prominent Black athlete can never say ‘Minister Farrakhan is my friend.’ They’ll try to cancel anybody with just the mere mention of Minister Farrakhan’s name,” Sharpe said. It’s blatant hypocrisy.

It’s also part of the explanation why there have been so few Muslims in Congress.

Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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