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Keith Ellison urges Muslim engagement at Masjidullah :: News :: phillytrib.com

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Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and the Democratic National Committee deputy chair, encouraged the Muslim community to be politically active at a meet-and-greet reception on Friday afternoon.

Ellison, a Minnesota congressman, is touring the country and stopped at Masjidullah while in Philadelphia.

"We need an uptick in our participation and ... I am praying for us to have a voter participation committee in every single masjid in the U.S.," Ellison said. "We should have tables registering people to vote."

Ellison discussed the Muslim demographics in the country, saying that because "half of American Muslims are born outside the United States" and the bulk of the rest are African-Americans - groups that have historically been disenfranchised - they are "somewhat estranged" from political participation.

Even so, he said, attitudes must change.

"We have to take advantage of our constitutional right to worship as we see fit and use it to lift up participation," said Ellison, suggesting specific moves for Muslim religious leaders.

"I would humbly suggest you develop Khutbahs [sermons] and write articles about how we must engage in the civic life of our society," he said. "Don't be opening up a masjid in the neighborhood and the housing is bad, the wages are low, unemployment is high, crime is high and you're walking right past all of it into the masjid. Salat [prayer] is doing you some good, but here's what's doing you more good - doing something about these problems. If we pay taxes, we have the right to shape the direction of society."

Imam Mikal Shabazz of Masjidullah said "it was only natural and right" to have Ellison speak, because "our late and great teacher Warith Deen Muhammad always encouraged us to be involved in the community and civic engagement was something he strongly advocated."

Several state legislators, including Sen. Sharif Street (D-3), Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald (D-203) and Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-179) also attended the meet-and-greet and shared brief messages.

"Because Congressman Keith Ellison is doing a grassroots tour around the nation, I was asked by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party to host an event," said Salima Suswell, CEO of Evolve Solutions. "I thought that Masjidullah would be a perfect space. We are rich in diversity. We have a thriving community that is very involved civically and we definitely wanted to host the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. And we are a bipartisan organization. We welcome all elected officials on both party lines."

Suswell added that Masjidullah's next community event, the Northwest Economic Empowerment Business Summit, will be held Jan. 20 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with several state legislators as hosts.