City of Brass

The hajjis have begun to arrive home. Among them were Rep. Keith Ellison, the first muslim elected to Congress and now the first US elected official to have ever performed Hajj.

The Democrat from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional
District traveled to the Saudi Arabian city along with about 3 million
people. The journey is a lifelong dream for many Muslims.

“It was transformative. It was a wonderful experience,” Ellison
said in a telephone interview today. “I learned a lot about myself,
about my faith.”

He said that word soon got around that he was a congressman —
some people had recognized him from TV — and he wound up talking to
groups of 60 or 70 people.

“I didn’t want to turn it into a politics thing,” he said. “I
was trying to play it low. I really wasn’t trying to play the role of
the public official.”

Ellison said he talked to the groups about “the importance of
calling on your spiritual journey, and that whether you’re a postman or
businessman or a congressman, we all need to do what we do better. With
more purpose and more focus, and a greater sense of serving humanity
and looking out for the poor and stuff like that.”

It’s interesting that Ellison’s status as a Congressman was cause for mini-celebrity. It speaks, I think, to the tremendous reservoir of hope and goodwill that muslims worldwide have for the United States, despite near-universal condemnation of our foreign policy over the past 8 years. As Ellison notes, he was also approached by many who were eager to express their hope about Barack Obama’s election:

People were encouraged about the role the U.S.
will play under President-elect Barack Obama, Ellison said. The fact
that Obama’s middle name is Hussein and he had a Muslim father came up
in conversation.

“People think that the (incoming) president might have a higher level of sensitivity,” Ellison said.

We truly are at the cusp of a new era in American-Islamic relations. However, we have to be careful about setting expectations too high, as well…

There’s also a nice article from last year in the LA Times, “personal trek, with millions” about a group of California muslims who went to hajj. This year, an NBC producer and author named Kamran Pasha, also blogged his Hajj experience.

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