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When Representative Ilhan Omar was elected to Congress in 2016, Imam Asad Zaman ordered the largest Qur’an he could find for her swearing-in ceremony. Afterward, Ilhan signed the holy book. Zaman recruited earlier Muslim officeholders to sign the Qur’an, as well. He’s been collecting signatures ever since.
“This one Qur’an has been used by more than a dozen Muslim elected officials,” Zaman said. The list, which now runs two pages, includes Ilhan, state Senator Omar Fateh, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and others. “Each time they take their oath of office from the Qur’an, they get to sign it,” Zaman said.
On Monday morning, Jeremiah Ellison of Ward 5, Jamal Osman of Ward 6, and Aisha Chughtai of Ward 10 used the ceremonial 14-by-20–inch Qur’an when they took their oath to serve on the Minneapolis City Council. After a contentious election season in November, the swearing-in marked a historic moment for the city’s Muslim community: The council has never seated this many Muslim officials.
Aisha Chughtai, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, became the first Muslim woman to join the Minneapolis City Council. She represents the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
“It’s really exciting and really historic to have been elected alongside two other [Muslim] council members,” Chughtai said. “Pretty soon we’re going to run out of space in this Qur’an because of how many new folks are getting elected.”
While Chughtai was the only newcomer to the Minneapolis City Council, Jamal Osman of Minneapolis’s Sixth Ward also signed the ceremonial Qur’an for the first time. Jamal won a special election to the City Council in August 2020. Because of COVID-19 protocols at the time, he brought his own Qur’an from home for his swearing-in ceremony.
In an oath-of-office ceremony, an elected official pledges to uphold the Constitution of the United States, as well as the Constitution of the state. Elected officials across the state and the nation typically make this pledge by resting their hand on a Bible. Attorney General Keith Ellison first used a Qur’an when he was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. Ilhan and Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan also utilized Qur’ans for the 2017 ceremonies that marked their entry to the U.S. House.
Zaman keeps the ceremonial Qur’an at the Muslim American Society. Originally printed in Lebanon, the text of this particular Qur’an includes eight pages in the front matter that feature decorative geometrical designs. The first page of signatures includes a box with a similar pattern.
After Jamal took his oath of office Monday morning, he sat down at a table in the Minneapolis City Hall library. With Chughtai and Ellison leaning over his shoulder, he signed his name and picked a short verse from the Qur’an to recite out loud.
“We’re making great progress and we’re following the steps of the elected officials that have come before us,” Jamal said. “Growing up, I was in high school on September 11. Being a Muslim was like, I don’t know, a bogeyman kind of thing. But now it’s something that our kids will be proud of.”
Muslim political issues in Minneapolis? Start with ‘public safety, housing, jobs.’
As representatives of the two wards in the city with the highest percentage of renters, Jamal and Chughtai both stressed the importance of increasing affordable housing in the city and passing ordinances to protect renters.
“The Muslim community also has the same issues and struggle: public safety, housing, jobs, youth,” Jamal said.
He also noted that a stronger Muslim cohort on the council opens up the possibility of passing local laws that make sense for Muslims. He looks forward to discussions about putting Muslim holidays and prayer times on the council calendar.
Many council members—beyond Chughtai, Jamal, and Ellison—have brought Muslim staffers to City Hall. “We might have to start some kind of committee,” Jamal said with a laugh.
Jeremiah Ellison had served on the Minneapolis City Council with Abdi Warsame of Ward 6, who in 2013 became the first Somali City Council member. He remembers joking about starting a Muslim caucus between the two of them. Coming into the new term, the council members are seriously considering creating some sort of formalized group.
He also noted that the current Muslim City Council members are all coming to the position with little experience in City Hall. This includes Ellison himself, who is still figuring out how to best serve Minneapolis’ Northsiders after one term in office.
“It feels more meaningful. And it is starting to feel like a real caucus,” Ellison said, adding that the three council members can support each other moving forward.
Zaman had been hoping for exactly that scenario when he started collecting signatures in the city and state’s ceremonial Qur’an: that is, to bring together Muslim elected officials from all backgrounds to advocate for their community.
Zaman wrote a note of advice on the page preceding the signatures, reminding the elected officials, “The leader of a people is their servant. So be careful to serve the needs of all the creation of Allah.”
He also noted that the Qur’an is available for all Muslims elected to public office in Minnesota on the occasion of their own swearing-in ceremonies. Zaman says that he’s safeguarding the holy book for a more extraordinary occason, too: The day the first Muslim president of the United States requests the Qur’an for an inauguration on the second-story balcony of the White House.