After some major bumps along the way, there is finally a very
encouraging sign in terms of the relationship between the historic Obama
Presidential campaign and the six million strong American Muslim
community.  

The Obama campaign has had a complex relationship with Muslims.

  Muslims have loved Obama, but for long time the campaign hasn’t
seemed to love them back.   Part of the challenge of course has been
that the corporate media, sadly combined with the Hilary Clinton campaign, has
often sought to appeal to the worst qualities among many Americans by calling
Obama Muslim.  While these have been led by much of Right wing media, even
the recent issue of New Yorker, which depicted the Obamas in “Muslim”
garb dressed as terrorists contributed to this environment. In fact about
12% of Americans still
believe Obama is Muslim
. While stating the obvious (that Obama has been a
committed Christian who got married in a church and has raised his family
Christian), it took the Obama campaign far too long to come out and state
the obvious about the “Muslim smear”:

You know, this
is actually an insult against Muslim-Americans, something that we don’t spend a
lot of time talking about. And sometimes I’ve been derelict in pointing that
out.

You know, there are wonderful Muslim-Americans all across the country who are
doing wonderful things. And for this to be used as sort of an insult, or to
raise suspicions about me, I think is unfortunate. And it’s not what America’s all
about.

One of the signs of things going the right way is Obama’s
appointment of a National
Coordinator for Muslim Affairs
. What a stark difference from the choice of
the Bush white house:  When Dubya appointed a Muslim representative to the
Organization of Islamic Conference, the choice was a rich Texas businessman
(shockingly, that sounds familiar) named Sada Cumber with
zero standing in the American Muslim community and celebrated only by
Neoconservatives at the Weekly
Standard
. Cumber was such an unknown that even many longtime
Muslim community leaders had to google the person that had been appointed to
represent America
to Muslims worldwide!  It was universally taken as a sad and pathetic
reflection of the Bush administration’s lack of engagement with American
Muslims.

 In contrast, Obama’s point person is Mazen Asbahi, a
longtime Chicago
lawyer with heavy involvement at the grassroots level of the Muslim community
there.   Even more positive is Asbahi’s involvement with the Nawawi Foundation, one of the leading centers
of Muslim thought in North America. The Nawawi
Foundation has been built around a leading scholar, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, a
white American convert who has complete command of the intellectual and
spiritual heritage of Islam.    In brilliant papers available
online, the Nawawi Foundation has argued for ways that American Muslims can
come to harmonize their spiritual heritage  as Muslims with their cultural
matrix as citizens of the West, by looking to often overlooked examples of
Muslim minorities like those of Chinese Muslims. It is
this type of subtle and imaginative Islamic thought, with “street
cred” in the Muslim community and rooted in the tradition that is likely
to provide the most enduring answers to the “clash of civilizations”
nonsense.

If this is the type of imaginative Muslim contacts that Obama is
using, people that can both draw on the richest heritage of Islam and have
actual standing in the American Muslim community, maybe there is hope yet for a
healthy relationship between Obama and American Muslims.  That is not only
good news for the Obama campaign and American Muslims, it is also very much
good news for all of us who want to see a different model of relationship
between America
and Muslim-majority regions.

 

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