The Edmond Sun

October 16, 2012

1st Muslim congressman speaks in OKC

William F. O'Brien
Against the Grain

OKLAHOMA CITY — U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recently addressed a gathering at the Democratic Party of Oklahoma’s headquarters on Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City.

The event was presided over by former state Rep. Wallace Collins who now serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, and was part of a program that is known as “meet your Muslim neighbor” in which Muslims in the Oklahoma City and Edmond area invite people of other faiths to share a meal with them. Collins spoke of how State Question 759, which will be on the ballot in Oklahoma in November, would prohibit affirmative action in the state, and said that he believes that Oklahoma still needs affirmative action to allow African Americans and other minorities to fully participate in the state’s economy.

Imam Imad Enchassi of the Islamic Association of Greater Oklahoma City addressed the gathering, and spoke of the connections between Islam and Christianity. He pointed out that Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Koran, and that many of the prophets that are referenced in the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Noah and Moses are also found in the Koran.

Enchassi said that “your Lord and our Lord are one,” and that we are “brothers from a different mother.”

Oklahoma state Sen. Connie Johnson introduced Congressman Ellison, and pointed out that he was the first member of the Islamic faith to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and that the  Fifth Congressional district in Minnesota that he represents is overwhelmingly Christian. Johnson and state Rep. Anastasia Pittman presented Ellison with a commendation from the Oklahoma Legislative  Black Caucus that thanked him for the good work that he has done as a member of Congress to assist the less fortunate.

Ellison told the assembled guests that he and his fellow Democrats in Congress have sought to foster inclusive policies that will unite people rather than divide them. He decried the use of wedge issues by some groups in our society that have created division based on immigration status, sexual orientation and other matters.

The lawmaker said that many of the economic problems faced by working and middle class Americans are the result of the concentration of wealth in the hands of approximately 1 percent of the citizenry, and how that group has managed to ensure that its status is protected. He spoke of how Oklahomans approved a ballot measure several years ago that prohibited the introduction of Sharia law into Oklahoma courtrooms despite the fact that there was no recorded instance of any party seeking to apply that law in the state as an example of a measure designed to divide people.

The legislator also pointed out that by the year 2050 whites will be a minority in the U.S., and that many working class whites have ceased participating in the political process in recent years as they have been economically marginalized as many of the jobs that they used to fill have gone overseas. He urged attendees to make efforts to include white working people in the political system so that their needs will be addressed by it.

Ellison criticized Mitt Romney’s recent comments about his not trying to reach out to 47 percent of the citizenry, and said that it is necessary to include all Americans in efforts to revitalize the U.S. economy.



WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.