First elected Muslim sworn in using Quran
Ellison shook hands with a colleague who had criticized the new congressman.
WASHINGTON -- A jubilant Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, was sworn in to office Thursday holding his left hand on a leather-bound volume of a Quran that Thomas Jefferson once owned.
In a day of firsts, the 43-year-old lawyer and former Minnesota state representative was sworn in by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the first female speaker of the House of Representatives.
"It's a day of welcoming," said Ellison, accompanied by his wife, Kim, and their four children, including 12-year-old Elijah, wearing an African kente cloth draped over his suit. "It's a day of more people coming into the process."
"You sure know how to attract a crowd," Pelosi said to Ellison as they prepared for his ceremonial swearing-in in a wood-paneled chamber of the Capitol before hundreds of journalists from around the world, including the Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera.
Replied Ellison: "Maybe they're here for you."
Ellison then held his right hand in the air and placed his left hand on two brown leather-bound volumes of the Quran, which were held aloft by his wife, a teacher at an alternative school in St. Paul, Minn.
Moments earlier, the 110th Congress had been sworn in en masse on the House floor, where Ellison shook hands with Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., who'd criticized Ellison for planning to use the Quran.
Ellison said he followed through with his plan to suggest coffee with Goode, whose district includes Jefferson's historic home of Monticello. He said Goode had accepted.
"I don't anticipate we're going to have any problems," Ellison said. "We're not holding any grudges."
Ellison, characterizing his faith as mainstream American, tried to minimize the media hype over Goode and the Quran.
He challenged an Arab journalists' contention that Americans dislike Muslims and struck a matter-of-fact tone in describing his feelings about making history by swearing on the Quran.
"I haven't really thought about the historical significance of it," he said. "I'm a Muslim. It's my faith."
Ellison's ceremonial swearing-in took place in silence, apart from the sounds of hundreds of camera clicks. The two Qurans, published in London in 1764, then were placed in a white cardboard box and returned to Librarian of Congress James Billington, who walked them through a maze of underground tunnels to the Library of Congress across the street.
"They have to be handled lightly," Billington said. "I'm liable for them."