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(RNS) The first Muslim elected to Congress has become the first sitting member of that body to travel to Mecca for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites.
“It was transformative. It was a wonderful experience,” Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., told the Associated Press. “I learned a lot about myself, about my faith.”
Ellison traveled to the Saudi Arabian city for the annual pilgrimage attended by millions of Muslims from across the globe. He said he was impressed by how diverse Muslims were “kind of the same” as they made the pilgrimage together.
“You had people of all backgrounds, all races, all descriptions,” he said. “You had people there who were clearly well-to-do, you had people who were desperately poor.”
Ellison, D-Minn., had planned the trip for more than a year, his spokesman Rick Jauert told the Star Tribune newspaper. He didn’t expect that Congress would be addressing possible assistance for the auto industry in the midst of a tough economy.
“The plans were made not anticipating there would be a lame-duck session at all, and if there was, it wouldn’t be this late,” Jauert said. “He had let the speaker and majority leader know that he was going, and they were OK with that. If they knew they were going to bring up something on which his vote was essential, he probably wouldn’t have gone.”
Ellison, who was elected in 2006, was accompanied by members of his mosque, Jauert said, but his wife, who is Catholic, and two sons remained at home.
The congressman paid for the journey with his own funds.
“It was a personal trip, a pilgrimage,” Jauert said.
By Adelle M. Banks
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission

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