Islam convert seeks a seat in Congress

Political newcomer Andre Carson is the Democratic nominee in a March 11 special election to succeed his late grandmother, Julia Carson, representing Indiana’s 7th District. She died in December of lung cancer, and her grandson is seeking to fill out the rest of her sixth term, which expires at year’s end.

If Andre Carson wins the Democratic-leaning Indianapolis district over a freshman Republican lawmaker and a longshot Libertarian candidate, he would join Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, as the only Muslims elected to Congress.

Mr. Carson, 33, said he doesn’t believe his religious identity hurts him politically even while American Muslims struggle to gain acceptance. Polling last summer by the Pew Research Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 29 percent of Americans held unfavorable views of Muslim Americans, a higher percentage than shortly after September 11, 2001.

“I think it’s more of an advantage,” Mr. Carson said. “It’s a platform to address ignorance. It’s a platform to really show that this campaign is about inclusion of all races and religions.”

However, Mr. Carson said his faith doesn’t drive his stands on issues, other than instilling the values that have shaped his life and led him to public service. He said his decision-making is based on his constituents’ needs.

“For me, the religion piece, it informs me. You need to respect people” regardless of their race, religion or gender, said Mr. Carson, who is black. “That is the foundation I go by.”

Mr. Carson’s grandmother raised him in a Baptist church and enrolled him at an inner-city Catholic school, where he entertained the idea of becoming a priest. As he grew older, he became interested in Islam, reading the poetry of the Sufi mystic Rumi and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

He converted to Islam more than a decade ago and began attending prayers at Nur-Allah Islamic Center, a predominantly African-American Sunni mosque.

“For me, what appealed to me about Islam was the universal aspect of Islam,” he said. “All faiths teach universality. But with Islam, I saw it regularly in the [mosques], the praying, the different races.” (Source)

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