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Republicans Could Elect Muslim to Senate in Historic First for U.S. Story by Xander Landen • Yesterday 12:28 PM If elected, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate candidate in this year's midterm elections, could make history as the first Muslim to serve in Congress' upper chamber. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks to supporters at a campaign rally at The Chadwick on November 4, in Wexford, Pennsylvania. If elected, Oz, would make history as the first Muslim to be elected to Congress' upper chamber.© Jeff Swensen In September, Oz told ABC News that being the first Muslim elected to the Senate would mean "pride and honor." "I think America, especially this commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was built on allowing people of very diverse backgrounds to offer their best ideas. All of us are smarter than any one of us," he said. Oz, a celebrity heart surgeon, is running against the state's Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman for the open Senate seat. Polling shows the two candidates are neck-and-neck. Oz has been able to narrow his Democratic opponent's lead in recent weeks, according to FiveThirtyEight, which currently shows Fetterman's polling average is 46.8 percent compared to Oz's 46.4 percent. During his campaign, Oz, whose parents are Turkish immigrants, hasn't discussed his religion frequently. In a May interview with the conservative outlet Real America's Voice, Oz said that he's a "secular Muslim" and also spoke against Sharia law, a religious code that is interpreted widely among Muslims. "We don't want Sharia law in America," the Senate hopeful said during the interview, according to ABC News. "I don't want any of these religious fanatics playing a role in American society and I would aggressively block them." Oz's comments about Sharia law have been criticized by some Muslims, however. Ahmet Tekelioglu, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' chapter in Philadelphia, told Newsweek on Saturday that Oz's characterization of Sharia law is "problematic" and "definitely plays into anti-Muslim tropes." "I think that that needs to be called out and I hope that our community members who engage with Dr. Oz...will have real conversations with him about that," Tekelioglu said. "When he says 'We don't want Sharia law in America'—that's problematic. Him trying to paint people who attach to Sharia law as fanatics or people who don't self-identify as secular Muslim as fanatic, is problematic." Tekelioglu, whose organization is not making an endorsement in the race, said that he knows of community members and friends who "are very skeptical of [Oz], seeing him as a populist in the same fashion as Trump is." However, he added that there are also Muslims who believe that Oz's "affinity with Islam, or his affinity with Turkey as a Muslim-majority country will have a positive impact." Former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Oz, campaigned in 2015 on a pledge to bar Muslims from entering the United States, and while in office, banned immigration and travelers from several majority Muslim countries. Newsweek has reached out to Oz's campaign for comment. In an interview with Al-Jazeera on Saturday, Mehmet Birtek, a 44-year-old from Alburtis, Pennsylvania, said he hopes Oz's candidacy will encourage other Muslims to join with the Republican Party. "He will make a big difference for the Muslim community, I believe, in the Republican Party – and this is the start," Birtek said. Khalid A.Y. Blankinship, the chair of the religion department at Temple University, told ABC last month that he doesn't believe Muslims "are going to be very influenced by the fact that Oz is a Muslim." "Some small number of people might be; it's conceivable," Blankinship said, who did call Oz's candidacy "a major event." "It is very significant that that has happened," he added.
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