By Roxanne Roberts
Keith Ellison’s mom, like every mother, worries about her son. Right now, she’s worried that he isn’t eating enough healthy food.
“Make sure you get some protein in the morning meal,” she told him recently. “Make some chicken the night before.”
The 51-year-old Democratic representative from Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, spends the holy month of Ramadan fasting from sunrise to sunset — more than 15 hours with no food or drink, not even water.
“I get tired during the day,” he says. “You really get a sense that food is fuel, because you know when you’re running low. I have to struggle to concentrate by the end of the day.”
Ellison is tired but cheerful, chipper even, during a late-afternoon call last week. The annual religious period is one of the busiest times of his year: In addition to his day job, he’s in hot demand at Iftar dinners, the nightly breaking of the fast. He attends more than 15 dinners as a speaker or in some official capacity, and most of them don’t start until almost 9 p.m.
Needless to say, he doesn’t get a lot of sleep.
Ramadan is challenging at any time of year, but especially so during the long, hot days of a Washington summer. It’s trickier when your high-profile job requires you to attend power breakfasts or luncheons where everyone else is guzzling a morning latte or devouring a juicy steak in front of you. Ellison sat through a campaign event last week where all the other guests ate lunch, but he didn’t. He was fine with that, and nobody really noticed because they were too busy talking.
Ellison converted to Islam when he was 19 and has been fasting during Ramadan for more than 30 years, so he knows exactly what to expect.
“I try to power through the day,” he says. His typical morning starts with prayers at 4 a.m., when he rolls out of bed, grabs some cereal, washes up, prays and goes back to bed for a couple of hours. He’s at the office by 7:30 a.m. and works out every day, because he’s afraid of getting out of shape: “I normally do 40 minutes of cardio, but I do 20 minutes during Ramadan.”
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