Saturday, December 27, 2008
First Haji in US Congress
"It was an amazingly transformative experience. I'll never forget it. Three million people, from every inch of the globe, all getting along together in a world where there's a lot of turbulence", said US Congressman Keith Ellison said of his recent experience of pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
This year, Rep. Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minneapolis, became the first member of the US Congress to perform Hajj, according to Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The Hajj consists of a series of rituals that honor an ancient pilgrimage and sacrifice of his favorite son (Muslims believe it was Ismael while Jews and Christians believe Isaac) offered by Abraham, a highly revered figure in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In some ways, the Muslim beliefs are much more aligned with the Christian faith than the Jewish belief system. Although the Christians draw a lot from the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), the Jews do not believe in Jesus as bringing guidance from God. In Islam, however, the belief in Jesus as a messenger of Allah is required as an essential part of the Islamic faith. Anyone who rejects Jesus is not considered a Muslim. The key difference between Muslims and Christians is that Muslim do not believe in Jesus as God or Son of God. Muslims believe in the Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus and Jesus as a human being sent forth by Allah as a prophet to guide all of humanity.
According to the Star Tribune, Ellison said he met a wide array of people, from the vice president of Bosnia and a former Saudi deputy oil minister to humble street cleaners. But on Hajj, everyone is treated the same. "Everyone's just a pilgrim, a Hajji," he told the Tribune. "You can't look at someone's shoes and tell what economic station in life they're at, because everyone's wearing sandals."
Decades ago, another famous Muslim American leader, Malcom X aka Malik Shabazz, captured his Hajj experience in the following words, "There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white."
As expected, Ellison's visit has attracted negative attention along with positive coverage. Ellison has been criticized for missing the House vote on the auto bailout for his native Detroit. His spokesman has said Ellison hadn't expected the lame-duck session and noted that he'd earlier told House leaders of his plans.
Some anti-Muslim bloggers have seized the opportunity to heap their hateful criticism on Ellison. A right-wing blog has accused that the Muslim Congressman's Hajj was funded by "Muslim Brotherhood terrorists". Another similar blog criticized Ellison for listening to a speech by a Saudi cleric at the Hajj urging Muslims to renounce capitalism, which in the blogger's view means the implementation of Shariah law.
Ellison has also been the target of criticism by the far right for urging qualified American Muslims to apply for some of the 8,000 jobs he said are available now in the incoming Obama administration. Ellison has said that today - with a new U.S. president sporting "Hussein" as his middle name - there is no excuse for shying away from work because of an accent or a foreign name.
Orthodox Muslim groups have not been particularly kind to Ellison for his "self promotion" and support of gay and lesbian causes. He has come under strong criticism for being "Proud to be Named Vice-Chair of Bipartisan Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus." The mission of the Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. It's clear that Mr. Ellison's actions have not pleased his detractors among both Muslim and anti-Muslim groups.