Mayor Jack Ellis has converted to Islam and is working to change his legal name to Hakim Mansour Ellis.
Ellis said he has studied the Koran for years and that his new religion was practiced by his ancestors before they were brought to North America as slaves.
"Why does one become a Christian?" Ellis said Thursday. "You do it because it feels right. ... To me it's no big deal. But people like to know what you believe in."
Name-changing by Ismaic converts is a common practice that is considered commendable, though it is typically not required.
Ellis said he would keep his last name at the request of two daughters.
Ellis, whose mayoral term expires this year, said he hasn't calculated how his religious conversion might affect him politically. He said he is proud to live in a country founded on religious freedom.
"If anybody wants to know about Islam, I can hold an intelligent conversation," Ellis said. "What I've found is how little we know about the religion."