Muslim woman says prayer on floor of Wisconsin Assembly

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Annysa Johnson  

Janan Najeeb, a prominent member of Wisconsin's Muslim community and a longtime participant in local interfaith efforts, offered a prayer on the floor of the Assembly at noon Thursday in what is thought to be a first for Wisconsin.

"I'm honored and excited," said Najeeb, who was invited by Milwaukee Democratic Rep. Mandela Barnes to offer the opening prayer. "I'm also a little bit surprised because, based on what the clerk has sent, it's safe to say I'm the first Muslim to do so."

Najeeb, a Mequon mother of five and longtime community volunteer, is president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition and founder of the Islamic Resource Center, the state's first public Islamic lending library. She sits on a number of boards including the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Barnes, who considers Najeeb a friend, said he invited her in an effort to promote diversity in what is a predominantly white, Christian body and to present a more balanced picture of Muslims than that presented in much of the current political rhetoric.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declared in the wake of a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that Muslims should be barred from entering the United States and required to register with the government.

Gov. Scott Walker drew outrage from Muslims and interfaith leaders when he declared during his 2015 presidential campaign that there are only a "handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam."

"There is just so much for us to get over in terms of our fears," said Barnes, who is Christian and previously worked for the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope. "Muslims want the same things everyone else wants — to live peacefully, enjoy themselves and just live and breathe."

Longtime lawmakers, including one since retired, said they could not recall ever hearing a Muslim prayer in the Legislature. Efforts to reach Assembly Clerk Patrick Fuller were not immediately successful, but a woman in his office said, "We've had everybody — the Dalai Lama, Indian tribes..."

Najeeb offered a general prayer as well as two citations from the Qur'an that speak to the value of diversity. They say, depending on the translation from Arabic:

  • "And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know."
  • "We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you."

Najeeb said she hopes lawmakers "will realize that Muslims are part of the fabric of our society...and we are adding our story to the stories of the many communities that came before us and created this country."

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