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Andre Carson, grandson of a late Indiana congresswoman, said his campaign is about inclusion of races and religions.
Robert Scheer/The Indianapolis Star
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BY KEN KUSMER
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
INDIANAPOLIS--A convert to Islam stands an election victory away from becoming the second Muslim elected to Congress and a role model for a faith community seeking to make its mark in national politics.
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 legislator and a longshot Libertarian candidate, he would join Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., as the only Muslims elected to Congress.
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 Sept. 11, 2001.
"I think it's more of an advantage," 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, 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 Carson, who is black. "That is the foundation I go by."
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," Carson said. "All faiths teach universality. But with Islam, I saw it regularly in the (mosques), the praying, the different races."