Andre Carson on identity and belief

Dateline: Sun 06 Jan 2008

For the record: 7th District Dem candidate Andre Carson is "an Orthodox, universal, secular Muslim" who "frequently attends" services at Nur-Allah Islamic Center. That center is run by Imam Michael "Mikal" Saahir, an Indianapolis firefighter, and is located at 2040 E. 46th Street. The center is well-connected to the Indianapolis community. Nur-Allah, meaning "light of G-d," is active in interfaith endeavors, Habitat for Humanity and other worthy causes.

Here's a link if you want to read more:

Carson is not a member of the Nation of Islam, he said. Nor does he attend services at a Nation of Islam mosque. This is important, because the Nation of Islam is, depending on which definition you want to go with, a militant black separatist movement that professes Islamic beliefs. Under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan of Chicago -- who spoke at the funeral of Rep. Julia Carson, Andre's grandmother -- the NOI has a history of antisemitism.

Farrakhan's presence at the funeral raised questions and had some of us wondering where Andre Carson stands, what his faith affiliation is, etc.

Now he is speaking out.

Carson, 33, said today in a phone chat that he was influenced, as a teen-ager, by the biography of Malcom X, and by NOI members and an offshoot group, the Five Percent Nation or the Five Percenters. Both the NOI and the Five Percenters were active in Indy, trying to clean up its mean streets during the 1980s and 1990s. (Note: the Five Percenters have never been accused of anit-semitism).

Carson grew up during hip hop culture when many rappers were members of the Nation or sympathizers. Music was a vital part of his identity as a youth, he said.

Andre talked about being reared by his grandmother at her home at 25th and Park. Rep. Carson exposed him to many different beliefs, he said, including Judaism and Christianity.

He attended St. Rita Catholic School and at one time considered becoming a priest, he said, until puberty hit. He attended the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church with his grandmother and later joined Calvary Temple of Indianapolis on the Eastside.

In high school, living in the Near Northside 'hood, he considered the hip hop and rap music scene a source of pride. He also read the autobiography of Malcom X and was affected by it.

"I was intrigued by his journey. This was in the late 1980s, with the crack epidemic and hip hop music. Many of my friends, where we lived, it was called Dodge City then...there was the drug culture and it was working-class. There were gang issues within all of that madness."

"Your mind is like, 'wow!', said Carson. "You are in the traditional black church, but you are searching for an identity. In history classes (he graduated from Tech High School), you didn't hear much about yourself (black culture). And then not knowing who my biological dad was...that's where I came from."

The Nation of Islam and the Five Percenters were feared by the drug dealers in his neighborhood, said Carson. The fact that those groups took a stand against drugs and the dealers earned respect among "the elders," including Carson's grandmother. "They were cleaning up the neighborhoods," and that was an appealing idea.

Carson said his grandmother came into contact with NOI members as well during her years at the Center Township Trustee's Office; that's where she first got connected with Minister Farrakhan, he guesses. "Some employees there (trustee's office) were affiliated with the nation. Others were orthodox Muslim. Others were Christian."

Carson said he is heavily involved with interfaith efforts and attempts to reach out. "Growing up, I did not have a lot of racial baggage," he said. "I had exposure to LGBT and Jewish people."

Incidentally, for those who asked if Carson's wife is Muslim, she is. She was raised in that faith. Her father is the honorable Judge David Shaheed of Marion Superior Court. He is an imam who also has been active in interfaith endeavors.

Thanks to Erin Rosenberg for asking Andre Carson to call and address the charges. Rosenberg is Carson's campaign treasurer and a person of integrity.


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