SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 8: Keith Ellison, a Democratic candidate from Minnesota, on Tuesday became the first Muslim to be elected to the United States Congress. With results from 99 per cent precincts announced, Mr Ellison got 135,519 or 56 per cent of the votes while his rival, Republican Party Jewish candidate Alan Fine received only 51,896 or 21 per cent.

Voters responded to Mr Ellison’s liberal message calling for peace, withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and universal health care. In a victory message to his voters, he said he was privileged, with their support, of going to Washington to fight and deliver for the people and communities.

The American Muslim Task Force called the election a huge victory for both Muslim Americans and America. It said: “This victory has eradicated two stereotypes: one against Muslims, that they cannot work and succeed in democratic setup and the other against the US, that it is not a tolerant society.”

Mr Ellison, 43, a defence lawyer and Minnesota State Assembly member since 2003, embraced Islam when he was studying at college. His campaign had generated excitement in the seven-million-strong American Muslim community. He visited Florida and California -– with large concentration of Muslim population -– to garner support for his campaign.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations collected about $400,000 in a fundraiser for Mr Ellison.

American Muslim Voice Executive Director Samina Faheem Sundas said the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, had both heightened prejudice against Muslims and spurred them to be more politically active in hope of countering that prejudice.

"There are millions of Muslims in this country. It shouldn't have taken this long to elect one to Congress," she added.

The Newsweek reported recently that America's Muslims were nearly invisible when it came to holding office. Currently, the highest-ranking Muslim public official is Larry Shaw, a North Carolina state senator. In 2004, Ferial Masry, a Saudi-born woman, lost her bid for Congress in California. Also from California, Syed Rifat Mahmood made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2002 on a Republican ticket.

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