My Faith: Rep. Keith Ellison from Catholic to Muslim

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Welch, CNN

769265196_0c4e4f2cdd_oMinneapolis, Minnesota (CNN) –Prior to 2006, few people even knew that then-Minnesota state legislator Keith Ellison was a Muslim. Because of his English name, he said, no one thought to ask.
But five years ago, when he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives – a race he would go on to win – word of his religious affiliation began to spread.

“When I started running for Congress it actually took me by surprise that so many people were fascinated with me being the first Muslim in Congress,” said Ellison, a Democrat now serving his third term in the House.

“But someone said to me, ‘Look Keith, think of a person of Japanese origin running for Congress six years after Pearl Harbor–this might be a news story.’”

Though Ellison’s status as the first Muslim elected to Congress is widely known, fewer are aware that he was born into a Catholic family in Detroit and was brought up attending Catholic schools.
But he said he was never comfortable with that faith.

“I just felt it was ritual and dogma,” Ellison said. “Of course, that’s not the reality of Catholicism, but it’s the reality I lived. So I just kind of lost interest and stopped going to Mass unless I was required to.”

It wasn’t until he was a student at Wayne State University in Detroit when Ellison began, “looking for other things.”

He doesn’t have an elaborate explanation of what led him to convert to Islam in college, though he said he was “drawn to the multi-national congregation.”

“I would really like to hear somebody who is really articulate about the elements of their faith conversion. I’m not,” he said. “I investigated it, it worked for me, and it made me have a sense of inspiration and wonder, and I became a Muslim. It’s been working for me ever since.”

Ellison’s political opponents have made his faith an issue in his congressional campaigns.

“I would caution [opponents] that it doesn’t work. People are not hateful like that,” he said. “If you come up saying, ‘Vote for me because Ellison is a Muslim and I’m not,’ nine out of ten voters are going to see that as the silliness that it is.”

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all,” he said. “In fact I actually feel sorry for these people.”

And he said he has never had a second thought about converting.

“My faith and my identity as a Muslim – I never saw it as something that made my job harder,” he said. “It’s just an aspect of who I am.

It’s the time that we live in. We have to respond to the realities of the world we’re in.”

But Ellison acknowledges that his faith has given him something of a national profile, not always in ways that are welcome.

In March, he testified in nationally televised congressional hearings, called by Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, to explore what King said was radicalization in American Muslim communities.
At the hearing, Ellison choked up as he described the sacrifices of Muslim Americans who tried to save others in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Without any of my choosing or desire I became somewhat of a symbolic figure,” Ellison said. “And I urge anyone to avoid becoming a symbolic figure if you can. But I ended up in that position, so I just figured why not talk about it? Why not help try to bring people together with it?”

“Faith really should be a bridge, not a wall,” Ellison said. “Because at the end of the day we should be focusing on what you believe, not what your religion is.”

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Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Event

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) has announced the attendance of two very special guests at this years  banquet/fundraiser. The two sisters, Fatema and Hala, ages 10 and 11,  were seriously burned in a house fire in Gaza, Palestine. They are but two of the many children that the PCRF has helped in the long  journey from illness and disability along the long road to health with the  concurrent ability to lead a normal life. Ahmad Saloul who is 9 years old and is  also from Gaza will join them. He is awaiting surgery at Shriners Hospital in  Los Angeles.

The event will be held September 24th at the Anaheim  Hilton in Anaheim, Ca. Tickets are $100 each with table sponsorships available.  To purchase a ticket(s), please call: 562-432-0005 or fax at:  562-684-0828.

The girls will travel to Texas to be treated for  their injuries, but only after a trip to Disneyland. They will incur no expenses  nor will their families as these expenses will be covered by the PCRF. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is also proud  to announce the featured speaker for the evening, Diana Buttu, a  Canadian-Palestinian attorney who has gained international acclaim and respect  for her legal work.

Ms Buttu’s accomplishments are many: herewith a few. She is a  fellow of the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government. She  currently resides in Palestine and served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian  negotiating team. She was the only woman at the Palestine-Israeli negotiations.  In 2004 she was part of a team that successfully challenged Israel’s Wall before  the International Court of Justice. Ms Bhutto later served as the communications  Director to President Abbas and frequently comments on Israeli-Palestinian  political matters for media outlets including MSNBC,CNN, Al Jazeera, and the  BBC. Ms Buttu holds degrees from the University of Toronto, Queens University,  Stanford University and Northwestern.

She will address the PCRF on the subject of Palestinian  statehood. The issue is currently at the top of the news, and her  address will coincide with the issue of statehood to be brought up before the  United Nations this month.

The PCRF is an  internationally acclaimed and honored children’s charity, specializing in the  Middle East. To find out more, access their web site at: _www.pcrf.net_ (http://www.pcrf.net/)

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Why the 21st Century Will Not Belong to China

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited transcript of Fareed Zakaria’s opening and closing statements at the Munk Debate where he joined Henry Kissinger in arguing against the proposition: “The 21st Century will belong to China.”

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

China is not going to be the dominant power of the 21st century for three reasons: economic, political and geo-political.

Economic

One thing we’ve realized over recent years is that nothing goes up in a straight line forever. China looks like it is about to inherit the world, but Japan looked like that for a while. Japan was the second largest economy in the world. We were told that one day the world would be run by Japan. It didn’t turn out that way.

Most Asian Tigers have grown at about 9% a year for 20-25 years and then shifted downward to 6% or 5% growth. I’m not predicting any kind of Chinese crash. I am simply saying that China will follow that law of large numbers and regress at some point to a slower growth rate – perhaps a little bit later than the others because it is a much larger country.

But it is also worth pointing out that there are massive inefficiencies built into the Chinese economic system. They have a huge property bubble. Their growth is highly inefficient. In terms of foreign direct investment, China attracts every month what India takes in every year.

Still China only grows two percentage points faster than India.

In other words, if you think about the quality of Chinese growth, it’s not as impressive as it appears. They are undertaking massive investments – huge numbers of airports, eight-lane highways and high-speed rail. But if you look at what you are getting in terms of the return on investment it is not as impressive.

China has another huge problem. The UN just came out with a report that pointed out that China is going to have a demographic collapse over the next 25 years. It is going to lose 400 million people.

There is no point in human history in which you have had a dominant power in the world that is also declining demographically. It simply doesn’t happen. And if you want to look at what a country in demographic decline looks like, look at Japan.

Political

Let’s say that China does become the largest economy in the world: Does it have the political capacity to exercise the kind of leadership you need?

Remember, Japan was the second largest economy in the world for decades and I didn’t see any kind of grand, hegemonic design. You need to have the political capacity to be able to exercise that kind of leadership.

China is a country ruled by a political system that is in crisis.

It is unclear whether the next succession that China goes through will look anything like this current one. China has not solved the basic problem of what it is going to do when it creates a middle class and how it will respond to the aspirations of those people.

When Taiwan went through a similar process, what you saw was a transition to democracy; when South Korea went through it, you saw a transition to democracy. These were not easy periods. They were fairly bloody and chaotic.

Geopolitics

People like to talk about the rise of Asia. But there is no such thing as Asia. There’s China; there’s Japan; there’s India. And they don’t much like each other.

You are going to find that as China rises there is going to be a spirited response in India, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and others. You already have begun to see the stirrings of this. China is not rising in a vacuum. It is rising on a continent in which there are many, many competitors.

Bet on Freedom

We are going through a crisis of confidence in the Western world. This has been true often when we have faced these kinds of new and different challenges and when we have faced nations that seem on the rise and on the march.

George Kennan, the great American statesman, used to write routinely about how he thought the United States would never be able to withstand the Soviet challenge because we were weak and fickle and we changed our minds and they were far-sighted and strategic. We were tactical and stupid. But somehow it worked out all right.

I think there is a tendency to think the same of China – that they have this incredible long-term vision and we are bumbling idiots. There is a wonderful story that encapsulates this:

When asked, “What do you think of the French Revolution?” Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is supposed to have answered, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Everyone thought, “Oh, my goodness, he’s such a genius; he thinks so long-term – in centuries.”

Well it turns out that in 1973, Zhou Enlai meant the French revolution of 1968 – a student revolution. It was perfectly rational at that point to say: “It’s too soon to tell.”

So don’t believe that the Chinese are these strategic masterminds and we are bumbling. We have managed to bumble our way to a rather advanced position despite the challenges from the Kaiser’s Germany, from the Soviet Union and from Nazi Germany.

In fact, I think what you will find is that the United States and North America are creating an extraordinary model in this new world.

We are becoming the first universal nation, a country that draws people  from all parts of the world – people of all colors, creeds and religions and finds a way to harness their talent and build a kind of universal dream. It happens over here and it draws together people from all over the world.

Don’t lose faith in free and open societies.

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Compassion Changed Robber’s Life

December 10, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Evan Buxbaum, CNN

Mohammad Sohail
Long Island Shopkeeper Mohammad Sohail

December 3, 2009 http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/12/03/convenience.store.compassion/index.html

Shopkeeper Mohammad Sohail says he recited an Islamic oath over the would-be robber after he broke into sobs.

New York (CNN) — Six months ago, a Long Island convenience store owner turned a would-be robbery into an act of compassion. On Wednesday, the shoplifter made amends with a $50 bill and a thank you letter for saving him from a life of crime.

The story began in May 2009, when Mohammad Sohail of Shirley, New York, was closing his Shirley Express convenience store one night. Security camera footage from that evening shows a man wielding a baseball bat barging into the store and demanding money.

Sohail had a rifle ready and quickly aimed it directly in the robber’s face, forcing the man to drop the bat and lay on the ground. Unbeknownst to the man, Sohail never loads his gun.

According to Sohail, the man immediately started to plead with him, tearfully saying, “I’m sorry, I have no food. I have no money. My whole family is hungry. Don’t call the police. Don’t shoot me.”

“When I see him starting crying [those] things, I really feel bad for him,” said Sohail. “I say, oh man, this is something different.”

Sohail made the man pledge never to rob anybody ever again, then gave the man $40 and a loaf bread. Sohail, who is from Pakistan, said the man then wanted to be a Muslim like him, so he recited an Islamic oath and gave the would-be robber the name Nawaz Sharif Zardari.

Sohail went to get some milk, but when he returned the man had fled with the money and food.

Both Mohammad Sohail and Suffolk County Police have no idea who the man is. After the May incident, Sohail explained that he will “absolutely not” be pressing charges, though police are still investigating the case.

Over the past six months, Sohail’s story of sympathy and kindness has inspired many across the country.

The Shirley Express store has received numerous letters of admiration. “No person has ever moved my spirit the way you did. From your biggest admirer,” one letter says. “Great men are capable of great acts. You are a great American,” another reads.

He has also received several checks with such messages for “a couple hundred dollars” in total, says Sohail. He has made a point to give this money “to the people” by offering free bagels, rolls and coffee in his store every night after 9 o’clock.

But the envelope that arrived on Wednesday came as a surprise. Postmarked November 11 without a return address, it enclosed a $50 bill and a note apparently from the would-be robber.

The typed letter begins, “You change My Life (sic),” and goes on to say that the man is sorry for his actions six months ago.

“At the time I had No money No food on my table No Job, and nothing for my family. I know that it was wrong, but I had know (sic) choice. I needed to feed My family. When You had That gun to my head I was 100% that I was going to die,” reads the letter.

The letter says Sohail’s acts inspired him to become a “True Muslim” and that his life has changed dramatically.

“I’m very happy that somebody got to change his life,” Sohail said. “If he is a maybe criminal, maybe is not anymore. So now he is a good person in this community and I’m very glad for that. He’s staying out of trouble, he’s not in a jail, he’s taking care of his family.”

But the letter-writer said he actually did convert, “decided to become a true Muslim,” and turned his life around after Sohail, 47, spared his life.

The letter was signed in type: “Your Muslim Brother.”

“That’s the same guy I gave $40 to,” said Sohail, 62, displaying the typewritten letter at his Shirley Express deli yesterday. There was no return address. It was mailed on Long Island the week before Thanksgiving.

“I’m really thrilled,” said Sohail. “I’m very happy for that guy, because he is now doing good for the community.

“He has a job and he is a good person. I really feel great. Thank God he’s doing good. He’s got a new baby and he’s not in jail,” said Sohail.

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